Pupils with special educational needs not getting enough support for learning – Ofsted

Some pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are not getting enough help in school to support their learning – even when specialist services are involved, Ofsted has warned.

Families have experienced “long wait times” in trying to get education, health and care (EHC) plans approved – with one head reporting that a pupil had to wait five years, according to the schools’ watchdog.

In some instances, parents were forced to pay for additional services themselves, the research found.

Ofsted warned this suggests it is not a level playing field for pupils from poorer backgrounds.

The study, which was centred around 21 pupils’ experiences across seven mainstream schools, found gaps in staff’s understanding of pupils’ needs which had a negative impact on their experiences.

The findings come as data released by the Department for Education (DfE) shows the number of pupils in England with EHC plans increased by 10% from January 2020 to January this year.

EHC plans identify a child’s educational, health and social needs, and set out what support the youngster should receive.

However, the proportion of new EHC plans issued within 20 weeks decreased in 2020, from 60.4% in 2019 to 58.8% this year, the statistics show.

The Ofsted study, which was carried out before the pandemic, highlights long delays around EHC plans.

A head from a school said they waited 60 months for one pupil’s EHC plan to progress from assessment to “getting the plan approved”. This was apparently due to staffing issues in the local authority.

Sean Harford (pictured), Ofsted’s national director for education, said: “Many children and young people with SEND have found it harder to engage with remote education during the pandemic, so getting the support right for these pupils is more important than ever.

“This research shows that high-quality education for these children is underpinned by a good understanding of their individual needs, and strong relationships between families and schools.

“Effective joint work between schools and other services, especially including health, is also critical to children’s learning and development.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the problems highlighted by Ofsted have arisen as a result of an underfunded system and an “incredibly time-consuming and bureaucratic” process for obtaining EHC plans.

He said: “The result is that schools are straining every sinew to provide support for young people with special educational needs – without adequate resources – but there are undoubted problems in delivering the support these children need.

“The Government does recognise that there are serious issues and is planning a review of the system but this has been delayed by the pandemic. It clearly needs to tackle this issue urgently.”

Councillor Teresa Heritage, vice chairwoman of the Local Government Association (LGA) children and young people board, said the rise in demand for EHC plans remains a “pressing issue for councils”.

She said: “All children, including those with SEND, will undoubtedly need additional support in the coming weeks and months due to the impact of the pandemic.”

The LGA is calling on the Government to provide councils with long-term certainty of funding to meet the needs of all children with SEND, and give councils “the power to hold education partners to account if their provision for identifying and supporting children with SEND is not adequate”.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “It is reassuring that support through provision of Education, Health and Care plans has continued, which is testament to the hard work of teachers, SENCos, local authorities, health bodies and all those supporting these children and their families.

“We are providing £1.7 billion of new investment to tackle the impact of time out of the classroom for pupils who have been most impacted, on top of the increased high needs funding to £8 billion this year.

“But we know there is more to do to address the remaining challenges in the system, which is why our ongoing SEND Review is looking at how to make the system more consistent, high-quality and joined-up for every young person it supports.”

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