Council accused of failing special needs pupils

School signWaltham Forest Council missed a legal deadline this year for delivering healthcare plans for children with special educational needs (SEN) in half of all cases, it has been revealed.

The local authority failed to provide the required plans or statements on time to 53 percent of SEN children starting secondary school this year.

This figure was obtained in a Freedom of Information request by education lawyers Simpson Millar, which investigated how more than 100 councils across the country had failed to meet the statutory deadline for thousands of children. Local authorities are required to produce educational healthcare plans, or SEN statements, prior to any child with proven special needs starting school.

Simpson Millar revealed that across London this year, 17 percent of these children had not received their plans by the deadline. But the situation was far worse in Waltham Forest, where 67 out of the 126 children starting secondary school in September 2017 did not receive their plans on time.

The council has now admitted that staff shortages had led to delays in creating plans, but promised to meet the deadline for all children next year. Education solicitor Samantha
Hale, from Simpson Millar, said: “Parents of children with special educational needs are understandably often anxious about school changes, and their opportunity to review and challenge the provision set out in these plans is severely hampered if they are not
provided on time.

“This is a statutory deadline, put in place to ensure a sensible and managed transition for children who otherwise might find the whole thing very stressful. If the plans are not issued on time, parents who wish to appeal the provision set out in it, might not be able to have it heard.

“Even though some parents might have been told verbally which secondary school their child will be given a place at, they have no right to appeal until they have the final plan. Their hands are tied and all they can do is wait.

“These figures are symptomatic of poor planning and management, and a lack of resources to properly support children with special educational needs.”

Councillor Grace Williams, lead member for children’s services, said: “Almost 70 of our year six children with special educational needs and disabilities were staying in the same
specialist school for their primary and secondary education and we did not meet the deadlines for all of them. This was the result of a departmental restructure.

“Now we are fully staffed we will ensure we meet the deadlines for all our current year six pupils’ education health care plans by February 2018.”