The all-party parliamentary group for special educational needs and disabilities has published its report on the experiences of young people with SEND and their educational transitions during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. It's title: forgotten, left behind and overlooked tells you all you need to know. 

The inquiry considered information from a range of different people and organisations that work with pupils with SEND. The responses submitted paint a picture of a system which was already buckling under pressure, only to be pushed closer to breaking point by the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

It's therefore unsurprising that several of the APPG’s recommendations call for urgent action to be taken.

Recommendations

1. The Department of Education should, as a priority, publish guidance relating to schools and education settings which fully takes into account the range of needs of children and young people with SEND as well as those of their families, schools and carers.

2. The Government should undertake an urgent parliamentary review to assess the impact of Covid-19 on children and young people with SEND, to make sure that those who are most vulnerable are supported as we emerge from a global pandemic.

3. New and additional funding should be made available to support children and young people with SEND as we recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

4. Funding should specifically be made available to target the delays and backlog in processing assessments for Education and Health Care (EHC) Plans.

5. The EHC Plan application process should be made easier and more empathetic.

6. Urgent funding should be made available for the support of peoples’ mental health with SEND.

7. High-needs funding requires urgent review.

8. The Secretary of State should review SEND and put children and young people with SEND at the forefront of government policy and decision making.

9. Ensure that children and young people with SEND are accounted for in future pandemic planning.

Our response

The report highlights that the difficulties faced by children and young people with SEND is likely to vary across the country, and from local authority to local authority. A review would help ensure that children with special educational needs and their families are heard. It could also help consider the concerns that have been raised in relation to the current levels of the funding, and the need to ensure that support is distributed fairly, and mitigates the criticised 'postcode lottery of SEND provision'.

The review of the EHC Plan application process and need to reduce the delay in EHC Plan assessments needs to be prioritised. EHC Plans are effectively the roadmap to ensuring a young person is appropriately supported and provided for as they move through educational settings. The Coronavirus Act 2020, temporarily relaxed the absolute duty on local authorities and health bodies to arrange the provision in a child’s EHC Plan. The Act replaced this to state that the duty would be discharged so long as 'reasonable endeavours' to 'secure special educational provision and health care provision in accordance with EHC Plan' had been made. The timescales to complete EHC assessments and reviews were also relaxed This has only added to the backlog of EHC Plan assessments (as noted in the report, and of up to 11 months in some places).

It is of significant concern that the report found that high-needs funding, which supports children and young people with SEND is oversubscribed and that 'the Local Government Association … expressed concern that local authorities would be unable to meet their statutory duties to support children with SEND without additional funding being made available'

Presently, the high-needs block is one of four funding blocks provided to the local authority from the central government. The Department of Education has prescribed a complex formula to dictate the allocation of the funding. It's inherently inflexible and the report's call that high-needs funding needs to be reviewed is essential if we are to prevent the systemic failure of education funding.

It would be wrong not to recognise that the mental health of society as a whole has been affected as a result of the pandemic, which has forced us to withdraw from that which, by nature, makes us human: social interaction. However, it is evident from the report that the mental health of children and young people with SEND has particularly suffered, with anxiety being the most cited condition. 

This is unsurprising given the report’s findings that 'the pandemic has resulted in the educational and therapeutic support provided to children with SEND being reduced or stopped completely'. Support, such as occupational therapies (specifically where children require specialist sensory provision), or speech and language therapies, can be critical in providing children with a toolkit to then be able to access their education. It can be destabilizing to have this support reduced and leaves children without the correct provision which they need. 

This reduction has had a cumulative effect on parents and carers. It is therefore vital that this strain on children as well as on their parents and carers is recognised and funding be made available for the support of peoples’ mental health with SEND.

How we can help

We believe that every child should receive a good education and our experienced team of education solicitors are here to provide representation and guidance on any aspect of education law. Commonly, this may include challenges to: EHC Plans, SEND funding decisions and exclusions from schools. We can also advise schools and colleges in relation to special educational needs issues and how to ensure children’s EHC Plans are effective.

To find out more about how thePublic Law & Human Rights team can help you, you can speak to a member of our team by calling 0800 028 1943.

Authors

This article was written by Alice Utley and James Betts.