Council struggles to cope with ‘skyrocketing’ demand for special needs plans

Weston-super-Mare Town Hall. Picture: MARK ATHERTON

Weston-super-Mare Town Hall. Picture: MARK ATHERTON - Credit: Archant

‘Skyrocketing’ numbers of parents are seeking support for children with special educational needs (SEN), with North Somerset Council struggling to keep pace with demand.

Cuts to preventative services mean more and more mums and dads are turning to the authority to get an education, health and care plan (EHCP).

Admin alone is putting a strain on resources, then it has to provide the extra support up to the age of 25 when a child or young person gets a plan - and they are awarded in 90 per cent of cases if a parent appeals a rejection.

Education inclusion service leader Wendy Packer told the council's children and young people panel on October 24: "The number of EHCPs is skyrocketing.

"One of the reasons is the number of earlier preventative services has been reduced.

"Really young people are struggling, and their parents are looking at what's out there. They only have to demonstrate their child might have a need for an assessment to go through.

"It's opened the floodgates. Parents hope their children might fit the criteria.

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"Numbers have increased astronomically in the last four years. It's difficult to keep pace.

"It's been hampered by the fact we don't have enough educational psychologists."

Safeguarding manager Eifion Price said the tribunal will always emphasise parental choice, rather than the council's conclusion, adding: "Their guiding principle is that parents know best."

Between January 2015 and July this year, the number of children and young people in North Somerset with an ECHP has shot up by 81 per cent.

A council spokesman said: "There have been some increases in capacity in the council's special education needs team to meet the rise in demand in assessing and processing EHCPs.

"Reductions in local authority preventative services, which resulted from funding moving from the local authority to schools, has meant that there are now fewer centrally provided support services for schools, their children and families.

"In addition, changes introduced by the Children and Family Act 2014 for requests for EHCPs have meant that the bar for applications is lower than previous SEN law, which has resulted in more requests for assessments."