The thousands of children missing out on key support for diagnosed special educational needs in England is a “national scandal”, Ofsted has said.
Chief inspector of England’s schools, Amanda Spielman, reveals 4,000 children with official education, health and care plans (EHCs) setting out their needs receive no support at all.
She also raises the issue of children disappearing from education.
Some parents said a child is only assessed when they are excluded.
Ms Spielman says: “Too often, children who have been assessed still do not receive the services they need.”
She uses her annual report to expose what she describes as a “bleak picture” of too many children “failed by the education system”.
“In 2017, more than 4,000 children with an approved EHC plan received no provision, five times more than in 2010.
“One child with Send [special educational needs and disability] not receiving the help they need is disturbing enough, 4,000 is a national scandal.”
The report also says: “Most disconcerting is that the whereabouts of some of our most vulnerable children is unknown.”
It revisits serious concerns that some pupils are being moved off the school roll illegally, because they may be seen as difficult to teach.
The report suggests 10,000 pupils cannot be accounted for and may have been “off-rolled” by schools in Years 10 and 11, because they did not appear on the pupil list of another state school.
It acknowledges many of these may have switched to independent schools, moved elsewhere or have been taken out for home schooling.
But, it says, it is unlikely that all of this number would fit into these categories.
Battle for support
The report says that compounding the difficulties faced by children with Send and their parents is that demand for EHC needs assessments from local authorities has risen by a half since 2015.
In 2017, 45,200 children and young people were assessed, while 14,600 were refused an assessment.
EHC assessments and plans were introduced in 2014 amid a shake-up designed to streamline and reduce the burden on the special needs education system.
They replaced statements of special educational needs which were carried out by local authorities.
Many parents complained of the long and difficult battles they had to get their child’s needs “statemented”.
But campaigners say the same issues are being faced with EHCs.
At the same time, the costs of supporting more children with lower levels of special needs were handed back to schools, which have been facing budget pressures of their own.
There was also a stated intention to reduce the number of children diagnosed with lower levels of special needs.
Some believe these are part of the reasons the EHC assessment and plan system has come under pressure.
Both local councils and head teachers have been grappling with huge rises in demand for high needs support – those children with the highest level of need.
The report says: “Too often, the identification of Send is inaccurate or comes too late. This only exacerbates children’s needs and puts even greater strain on the need for services.
“Often the worst hand is dealt to those who do not quite meet the threshold for an EHC plan.
“Understandably, parents feel that to do the best for their children they must go to extreme lengths to secure an EHC plan, which not every child will need.
“Something is truly wrong when parents repeatedly tell inspectors that they have to fight to get the help and support that their child needs. That is completely contrary to the ethos of the Send reforms.”
Last month, representatives of local authorities told MPs of the funding problems they face in their high needs budgets.
Surrey County Council revealed it faced £30m in pressures on its high needs budget for this year, adding this was enough to trigger formal restrictions on any further spending at the council.