MP: Plans for children with special education needs still taking too long

Babergh and Mid Suffolk have a joint administration based at Endeavour House in Ipswich.

Suffolk County Council's Endeavour House headquarters - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

More progress must be made with plans for children with special educational needs in Suffolk, one of the county’s MPs says.

Dr Dan Poulter said he feared delays to education health and care plans (EHCPs) – key documents which outline specific measures SEND youngsters need in their learning – were getting worse, not better.

Suffolk County Council said EHCP assessments, which should be done within 20 weeks of referral, are currently at an average of around 23 weeks.

But it said that the national shortage of speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and education psychologists is impacting on EHCPs and the 20-week target time because they need to feed into the assessments and preparation of plans.

Dr Poulter feared that the problem was worst in more deprived areas of his constituency, and said that a number of headteachers had raised the problem in recent visits.

The Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP said in some cases youngsters were waiting 12 months or more for an initial assessment and up to two years for a plan to be put in place. The county council said it was not aware of any EHCPs taking two years to issue.

He penned a letter to Suffolk County Council, Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group and Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, pressing for improvements.

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“Whilst I recognise and welcome the recent findings of Suffolk County Council’s SEND review, positive progress on the ground is still not filtering through and I remain particularly concerned at the lack of pace of change in EHCP referrals,” he said.

“There needs to be a joint undertaking between Suffolk County Council and health chiefs to properly resource the assessment process, and in particular there needs to be timely access to appropriate diagnostics so that the correct support can be agreed and put in place for our children and young people more quickly.”

Since a critical report by peers in Lincolnshire published last year, Suffolk County Council has embarked on an action plan to tackle problems within the SEND service.

It has begun investing £1.1million in additional funds committed by the Conservative administration into more resources – including upping staff capacity, as well as improvements in data gathering and IT systems.

A joint statement from the county council, NSFT, Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk CCGs said: “The current response time in issuing EHCPs is 23 weeks which, unfortunately, falls short of the 20-week statutory timescale. A significant factor in this delay is the national and regional shortage of educational psychologists who help complete the plans.

“We continue to work together to address this.”