Phil Stock says we need better Education Health & Care Plans (EHCPs) for young people with SEND
In recent months the quality of Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) has been a topic of much debate across the SEND community nationally and the following questions keep on emerging:
• Are children or budgets at the centre of the EHCP process?
• Why is there a lack of consistency and quality with regards to EHCPs nationally?
• Is the demand for efficiency (time & cost) negatively impacting the quality of EHCPs for C/YP with SEND?
• The SEND CQC and Ofsted inspections have referenced limitations with the consistency and quality of EHCPs in nearly all inspections that resulted in a Written Statement of Action (WSOA), so what is being done to address this area?
EHCPs in England
In May 2019, the Department for Education published their annual snapshot of statistics about Education, Health and Care Plans in England. The figures highlight that 3.3% of all pupils in schools in England have an EHCP, a rise from 3.1% in 2019. A further 12.1% of all pupils have SEN support, without an EHCP, up from 11.9% in 2019. The national increase in the number of EHCPs is placing increasing demands on local authorities who are operating within considerable budget restraints. However, does this mean a lower quality of EHCPs should be expected?
Are LAs focusing on quality rather than just time-frames and budgets? (See fig.1).
Whilst data must be submitted annually by LAs on the number of children and young people (C/YP) with EHCPs and how many EHCPs are completed within the 20 week statutory time-frame (60% is the average number completed within 20 weeks nationally), there is little with regards to a consistent process in ensuring ‘quality’ of the content of the plan (e.g. standard, compliance, lawfulness etc.).
With the focus for LAs to complete EHCPs within 20 weeks and to publish this key performance indicator publicly (on an annual basis), is this directly resulting in a lower standard of EHCP with regards to content for children and young people (C/YP) with SEND? The demand for efficiency in time-frames at the cost of quality of the content? EHCP with regards to content for children and young people (C/YP) with SEND? The demand for efficiency in time-framesat the cost of quality of the content?
Ensuring effective provision and outcomes for children and young people with additional needs that require an EHCP is central to a local area’s SEND offer. The purpose of an EHCP, as set out in the SEND Code of Practice, is to:
• Secure the special educational provision assessed as being necessary to meet the SEN of the child or young person
• Secure the best possible outcomes for them across education, health and social care support preparation for adulthood
• Establish outcomes across education, health and social care, based on the child or young person’s needs and aspirations
• Set out the provision required and how education, health and care services will work together to meet the child or young person’s needs and support the achievement of the agreed outcomes
• Confirm sources of funding for all aspects of required support, which may be through a personal budget or other resources.
The quality and consistency of EHCPs is one area which continues to be identified in many local area Ofsted and CQC inspections. On December 1st 2020, The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2019/20 was published and further illustrated the need for targeted focus to improve the quality and consistency of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). The report looked at numerous areas across children’s services, including SEND, with a specific focus on the Ofsted and CQC SEND inspections of local areas.
Consistency and quality
Since 2016, Ofsted and CQC have carried out joint inspections of services for children and young people with SEND in local areas. To date, 116 inspections have been undertaken and over half (59 out of 116) of the areas inspected have been required to produce and submit a written statement of action (WSoA), which is an indication of significant weaknesses in the areas SEND arrangements.
During the 2019/20 academic year, Ofsted and CQC jointly completed 16 inspections. Over half (9 areas) required a WSoA due to significant weaknesses identified in each case, ranging from two weaknesses in two areas to nine in another. The weaknesses varied across areas, however limitations regarding the consistency and/or quality of EHCPs were cited in all nine inspection reports.
The graphical representation (see fig. 2) is taken from the report and illustrates the number of inspections by region and also the outcome of these inspections.
The aim has to be for all local areas across all regions to deliver a SEND offer that is compliant, ‘fit-for-purpose’ and meets the requirements of the SEND community. Currently this is not the case (as demonstrated by the above graph) and further work is required to improve standards and attain greater consistency of good practice across areas.
A lack of understanding
Recently there has been some concerning messages about the quality and consistency of EHCPs, for example, in 2020 a freedom of information request highlighted that in the 2018/2019 academic year, the SEND tribunal had upheld LA decision-making in appeals against the content of an EHCP in
just 4% of the cases; representing in 96% the LAs perception regarding EHCP content was not consistent with the parent’s or indeed the decision of the tribunal panel. Figures such as these demonstrate the need for an increased focus on the content and quality of EHCPs.
In addition the recent Panorama documentary ‘Fighting for an education’ (7 September 2020) shared some examples from parents who illustrated significant concerns with regards to the content of their child’s EHC plans, despite the promise that came with the introduction of EHCP’s in 2014 that they would be focused and tailored to the child’s needs.
The question ‘What does a good EHCP look like? and what constitutes the appropriate standard when reviewing an EHCP, are not always clear. This lack of a consistent understanding has not supported a quality assurance process. However, there are supporting resources out there; the Council for Disabled Children have developed excellent resources (free to access) and positive examples, to develop greater consistency amongst parents / carers and local authority professionals with regards to what is a ‘good’ EHCP.
What is clear is that each LA are developing and implementing their own quality assurance processes and they differ considerably. Each LA is at a different point on the QA of EHCP journey, some have well developed and comprehensive systems involving education, health and social care professionals and others are just beginning to think about the need to review the quality of their plans purely within their SEND teams.
There has been considerable progress with regards to local authorities / local areas increasing their focus on the quality of EHCPs and some excellent QA frameworks have been developed. The key is to disseminate this good practice across regions and observe a positive impact on both the quality of plans nationally and the resulting positive outcomes for children and young people.