Coronavirus: Peterborough charity concerned over support for children with special educational needs
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In May, during lockdown, the Department for Education gave local authorities leeway with fulfilling Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) for young people as long as they made “reasonable endeavours” to deliver the plans.
Councils were also allowed to miss the timescale of 20 weeks for carrying out an EHC needs assessment.
Both ‘easements’ have now come to an end and FVP is pleased to hear that the vast majority of pupils at special schools in the city have now returned.
The charity would also like to thank Peterborough City Council for the extensive engagement it carried out with the community during lockdown.
However, FVP, which provides regular feedback from parents and carers to senior local authority officials, is worried about the future of many families.
In particular, there is concern over a recent report from the council which states that the implementation of a new IT system to process EHCPs “was not as expected, with particular difficulties around migration from the old to new systems”.
A number of issues are said to remain, with the report adding: “It is unlikely that the system will be fully operational until January 2021, particularly with regard to the production of data.”
Moreover, the report says that although the easement period has ended, “there is a continuing impact on the quality of EHCPs stemming from difficulties experienced by professionals involved providing advice to the statutory process”.
One example given is educational psychologists and NHS therapists being unable to conduct all assessments on a face-to-face basis which Family Voice said is not through the fault of the practitioners, the local authority or health services but because of the virus, with those involved trying to do their best in very difficult circumstances.
At a recent Children and Education Scrutiny Committee meeting, council service director for education Jonathan Lewis told councillors that the strain on some services for children with additional needs “we probably haven’t seen yet”.
He added: “One of my concerns is the limitation of funding in the higher needs block is probably going to cause more challenges going forward. But our EHCP service is phenomenal and they’ve done a great job to meet all those needs.”
During lockdown the council requested that schools contacted all families whose children have an EHCP to discuss how their plan would be delivered and to record the outcome on a form (Section M) which was then returned to the local authority.
Mr Lewis told councillors on the scrutiny committee: “I have to credit our parent-carer forum Family Voice who do a fantastic job working with us, who worked with my staff to design that process.”
FVP’s chief operating officer Louise Ravenscroft believes the council deserves credit for introducing Section Ms and for its level of cooperation during an incredibly challenging time.
But she fears that young people and their families may miss out on the support they need going forward with some services for children with additional needs only operating remotely at this time.
Louise said: “We’ve heard from SEND families about the huge impact Covid-19 is having on their finances, mental wellbeing and access to support.
“SEND doesn’t stop because we have a pandemic and we’re worried whether families will get the education support they are entitled to. For instance, we have had mixed views from parents, some who really appreciate and like virtual working and others who struggle with it due to internet poverty and language barriers.
“The current problems with implementing a new IT system at the council is also a concern and we hope that can be fixed soon.
“As the voice for families with SEND we will continue to give feedback to the city council so it is aware of any issues. That is why it’s so important that families continue to take part in our surveys.”
Feedback can be given to FVP through the charity’s website at http://www.familyvoice.org/ or by filling in a survey published on FVP’s social media pages.