Cambridgeshire ‘cannot keep pace’ with rising special educational needs demand

Cambridgeshire “cannot keep pace” with rising demand for special educational needs services.
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A report by county council education chief Jonathan Lewis revealed that there is a “lack of capacity” within SEND services to support the rising number of requests for Education Health and Care Plans.

EHCPs identify educational, health and social needs for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

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According to Mr Lewis, there has been a 38.5 per cent increase in the number of EHCP requests in the past three years, and he acknowledged: “Despite investment in the team, we cannot keep pace with the volume of work.”

Jonathan Lewis, service director for education at Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire County CouncilJonathan Lewis, service director for education at Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council
Jonathan Lewis, service director for education at Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council

The council is intending to draw together an action plan for “improving prevention and early intervention for children with special educational needs and disabilities” which it hopes will “reduce the need for statutory processes”.

This will include developing “more locally based, school-based provision”.

Cambridgeshire already has a “substantial deficit” of £27 million for its high needs funding, but despite lobbying the Government for additional money none has been forthcoming.

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Mr Lewis said: “We are finalising a recovery plan and have worked closely with the Department for Education (DfE) to outline the challenges we face.

“Our aim is to bring our spend in line with the annual budget in the next three years. We will continue pushing our case for DfE ‘safety valve’ funding to write off our deficit.

“Other authorities have received this funding.”

Cambridgeshire is currently ranked 145th out of 151 local authority areas for the schools funding it receives per pupil.

Mr Lewis’ report will be debated by members of the county council’s Children and Young People Committee on Tuesday.

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It highlights the likelihood that the challenge of teaching during Covid-19 is likely to remain in place until the spring of 2022, and that the full impact of the pandemic on families, vulnerable children and young people has not yet been seen.

The service director for education said behaviour, SEND needs and mental health challenges are emerging, adding: “We will need to respond to support this and broker additional services to support children. We do not currently have any additional funding for this.”

Since the start of the summer term on April 12, there have been 177 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Cambridgeshire schools and early years settings. This has led to 144 members of staff and 2,001 children isolating.

However, attendance has been strong compared to the national picture in all areas, with overall attendance of 87.9 per cent compared to 85.2 per cent across England.

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One of the upcoming priorities will be “understanding the impact of Covid-19 on pupil’s learning,” Mr Lewis said.

He added: “This is not yet fully understood and will not be established nationally until next year with the first set of published performance data.

“We are intending to collect information from schools this term to understand where children are against national expectations to help schools to plan.”

Another priority is to secure a provider to deliver a voucher scheme for all eligible children from vulnerable families for the 2021 summer holidays.