‘Huge effort’ to improve special education needs assessments for Peterborough children

The Peterborough Telegraph recently revealed that dozens of decisions to refuse assessments for city children with special educational needs and disabilities had been overturned on appeal.
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EHCPs identify educational, health and social needs for children and young people with SEND and set out the additional support they require.

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Moreover, there have been problems with meeting the 20 week assessment timeframe for EHCP reviews to be carried out, with the percentage of applications met in this time at 76 per cent before the first coronavirus lockdown.

Jonathan LewisJonathan Lewis
Jonathan Lewis

That figure dropped to as low as 17 per cent last summer when the 20 week timescale was temporarily revoked by the Government

However, there is a strong belief that the EHCP system is now more than holding its own, despite a rising number of applications.

So much so that 100 per cent of referrals were processed within 20 weeks at the start of the year, before dipping slightly in the spring.

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The council’s director of education Jonathan Lewis told the PT: “It’s something we’ve put a lot of effort into. We’ve got a transition worker in now and we’ve put more capacity into the team to make sure the annual review process is happening as there’s lots of them.

“We’ve really refined what we’re doing to make sure those Education, Health and Care Plan systems are effective.

“What we’ve seen since January is we’ve been more timely with the responses to requests which is really good. We’ve got those transition Education, Health and Care Plans done earlier, and generally the transparencies of our process are improving.

“But this is an area where it’s always challenging. Covid has really affected some of the processes and challenges we had.

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“I think the work we did during Covid was exceptional by reviewing every EHCP, making sure children were supported, and I think that made a big difference to parents.

“Not everything was perfect, but we did a lot more than other local authorities to try and make sure children’s needs were met. And we were really clear where we couldn’t meet them what we could do to support children.”

Council corporate director for people and communities Wendi Ogle-Welbourn said a new post had been created to assess the EHCP process and identify areas of improvement.

She added: “We’re continually looking at our actions in that area which is really important.”

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The appeals system is slightly more complicated, though, with both council chiefs acknowledging that decisions on whether to award an EHCP can be tricky to make.

“Sometimes not the full disclosure of information is available and we have to make a decision based on what we know,” Mr Lewis said.

“We’ve been encouraging schools to try to give us that information and be really clear. It’s an area we need to focus in on as there are a lot of cases that go through the process and get rejected and then go through appeal and the process again.”

Ms Ogle-Welbourn added: “When there are appeals and they are successful we look back at that and see where we could have done things differently.

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“Sometimes there are different views among professionals, and it’s up to the tribunal to decide on that advice.

“One of the reasons why we wanted to increase the amount of in-house speech and language and occupational therapy is we want to have that provision so parents don’t feel like they have to go out and commission their own.”