Just one-in-five special needs children in Stoke-on-Trent getting plans on time | #specialneeds | #kids


Just one-in-five children with special needs in Stoke-on-Trent are being assesssed on time, new figures show.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council reviewed just 26 of the 131 education, health and care plans (EHCP) whch were due to be done in the last three months of 2020.

The authority has now appointed three extra officers to the team handling the EHCP reviews, in a bid to improve performance.

Senior managers say that the work has been hit by the pandemic, due to most children being out of school and some officers having to self-isolate.

But they acknowledge that waiting times have to be reduced, and insist that steps are being taken to do this.

Councillor David Williams raised concerns over the issue during a meeting of the children and young people’s overview and scrutiny committee.

He said: “Something that really concerned me was the ECHP statistics. We know it’s a legally binding document, yet only one in five are being done in time. It does talk in there about some measures being put in place around additional posts.

“But these figures concern me a lot to be honest, because of how important these are. We know when these reviews are due, we know when they’re coming up, so it’s a question of planning in advance. If we knew they were coming up, why haven’t we taken actions to address it?

“I want some confidence that we won’t be here again, because one in five of those plans is not really good enough.”

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Sarah Parker, director of children and family services, told the committee that carrying out the reviews within a certain time was not necessarily the most important issue. But she accepted that performance had to be improved.

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She said: “We need to improve in terms of our EHCP responses. We’ve got a significant backlog. But one of the things we have done to address that is to invest in the team, and we have put additional posts into that team, to make sure we are able to prioritise and respond.

“In terms of the EHCPs themselves, one of the things I’m really focussing on is around the quality of them, rather than the timeliness. I know that’s probably not what Cllr Williams want to hear at this moment, but when we speak with parents, the focus is on the quality and impact of the EHCP, rather than on them being done by a specific date.”

Under the Covid Act, the legal requirement for councils to carry out EHCP reviews on time has been relaxed.

But Ms Parker said the city council was not using that as an excuse to allow standards to slip.

She added: “I want to assure the committee that this is very high on our agenda. While legally we can delay EHCPs, we want to do the right thing by our children – hence the investment we have put into that team.”

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New ECHPs have to be prepared within 20 weeks, and once in place they have to be reviewed every 12 months.

Neil Hoskinson, assistant director of learning services, said: “Our average has been 24 to 25 weeks. So a lot haven’t been done on time but they’ve been close. What we haven’t done is try and get as many done within the 20 weeks as possible and let others run much longer.”

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