Essex SEND tribunals quadruple

The number of times Essex County Council (ECC) has been taken to tribunal over its refusal to assess a child’s educational needs has almost quadrupled.

However ECC has said the proportion of tribunal cases compared to the total number of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) certificates was tiny.

Education funding for under 16s is divided into two blocks: the schools block for mainstream school pupils, and the high needs block, used to pay for pupils with SEND or an education, health and care plan (EHCP).

ECC is facing pressures in meeting the needs of pupils, especially those with SEND.

In total, ECC anticipates a £15million overspend on the high needs block by the end of 2019-20.

It has recently asked the schools forum if it would agree to transfer 0.5 per cent of the schools block allocation—approximately £4.3 million—to SEND.

It comes after the number of children and young people with special needs eligible for extra support has risen to record levels in Essex.

Figures from a Freedom of Information request show that in 2014/2015 there were 36 incidents in which the council was taken to the SEND tribunal in relation to a child’s education, health and care (EHC) needs assessment or an EHCP to assess a child’s EHC needs.

In 2018/19 there were 135 incidents in which the tribunal was called to step in to judge on those cases.

In 2014/15 the tribunal  was called to judge on an accusation of refusal to change what is in a child’s special educational needs statement or EHCP 40 times, which increased to 106 in 2018/19.

Altogether there were 258 of these support cases in 2018/19 adjudicated at the SEND tribunal.

Department for Education statistics show that 1,472 children and young people were put onto an EHCP to aid their learning last year – the highest number in a single year since statistics began.

That brings the total number with special needs in Essex, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock to 11,804 – the highest figure on record.

The figure is rising partly because since 2014, those aged 19-25 have been eligible for an EHCP.

However campaigners warn that government funding is not matching demand.

An EHCP is a document that describes a child or young person’s special educational, health and social care needs.

Children with EHCPs are those who require more attention than would normally be given in a school setting because of their special educational needs.

According to figures from the National Education Union (NEU), special needs provision in England has lost out on £1.2 billion since 2015.

The union says that this is because increases in funding have not matched increases in the number of children with an EHCP, due to the “unplanned and insufficiently funded” policy of extending provision to those aged 19-25.

At the same time as marches were going on in Castle Park, Colchester early in the year, campaign group SEND National Crisis delivered a petition to Downing Street.

An Essex County Council spokesperson said: “Published government figures show the number of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) has increased across the UK and Essex is no exception. This increase in the school population who require SEND support is reflected in the increase in occasions ECC has attended the SEND tribunal.

“For the year 2018/19 there were 21,889 children who need SEND support within Essex.

“As the FOI response figures show, in the same year, 258 of these support cases were adjudicated at the SEND tribunal – that is 1.17 per cent.”

Cllr Ray Gooding, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: “The issues the SEND system faces across the country will not be solved overnight and we must continue to work closely with central government going forward to ensure the individual needs of all children and young people continue to be met and that they go onto thrive into adulthood.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter