Gareth Copeland: 5 minute read

Education, Health and Care Plans in 2020

Earlier this month, the Department for Education published its annual snapshot of statistics about Education, Health and Care Plans in England. These are primarily based on information collected in 2019, as the data was collected at the start of the year. They, therefore, paint a pre-Covid-19 picture as to the state of Education Health and Care Plans in England.

Many of you may recall that we have looked at Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) before this year and highlighted that demand for them has increased. In the five years prior to 2020, demand for EHCP'S has increased by 35%. This is in comparison to the previous five years that show only a 4% increase. This huge increase in demand for assessment is down to many factors and the government published a report as to how they would tackle these trends at the end of 2019.

The report looked at the failings of The Children and Young Families Bill from 2014 and where these were emerging from, proposing remedies to the situation. With this in mind, we look at the snapshot that has been provided in this year's report and consider what the potential trends will be in 2020, and how Covid-19 will affect these.

A view from the government – EHCP plans, key findings

At the start of the year, there were close to 400,000 live EHCP plans in the system. Taking this figure against those that were presented five years ago and we can see that there are an additional 150,000 children and young people with a statutory plan, compared to the situation in 2015. This is an increase of more than 60%. It is a sharp increase that is mainly due to plans being kept up until the age of 25. The post-16 demographic is the area that has recorded the fastest growth.

Another key trend that emerged within the report was the disparity between specialist and mainstream schools. In the five years leading up to 2019, the number of pupils in specialist schools with an EHCP rose quicker than those within mainstream education. In 2019 the situation reversed, with a 10% growth year-on-year in regards to the number of EHCP’s in mainstream schools. The number of EHCP’s in specialist schools grew by 6% in comparison.

The reason for this shift is not currently evident and with the emerging effects of Covid-19, we may not have a full picture as to why for a while to come. A reason for this shift taking place could be the influx of population growth over the last few years, with demand for places at specialist schools increasing alongside. This suggests that due to a lack of capacity, students who would be traditionally be seen in a specialist school are unable to get a place and so they are left in mainstream education.

What is the situation in 2020?

Due to staff being deployed to the frontlines, certain duties are being reduced and one of those is Education Health and Care Plans. When it comes to education, The Secretary of State for Education has triggered the Coronavirus Act 2020 Modification of section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014 (England) Notice 2020. What this means in practice is that rather than local authorities being required to make ‘best endeavours’ to make provision, they are now required to make ‘reasonable endeavours’. On top of this, timeframes for responding to EHCP Plans have been relaxed to ‘as soon as reasonably practical’.

These changes are temporary and it is important to remember that but it is important to also consider how potential delays will affect the children. With staff re-deployed elsewhere, it is not practical to be able to continue processing applications at the same pace. This we accept but need to consider that when the world 'returns to normal', months and in some cases, years will be added to process times. Re-assessment could then be required and the child will be left in an environment that is not as suitable as it could be.

The global pandemic naturally throws processes up in the air and will add delays to children receiving a suitable EHCP. This is not ideal and we will be eager to see the overall view of SEND that will be published in July, which will hopefully provide a wider view on SEND and how vulnerable families are fairing in 2020.

A postcode lottery

Before Covid-19 hit, there was already what people were calling a ‘postcode lottery’ when it came to receiving an EHCP. Four out of every 10 applications were not being completed within the 20-week deadline. The delays for which we have spoken of before and worked with the country’s first bi-borough SEND service, to improve processing times through the use of our ECLIPSE platform and changes in processes.

With the global pandemic, there is a worry that the delays in the system will be accentuated, increasing accordingly. This is something that we believe can be assisted through the use of appropriate technology. The power of which has been shown to everyone at this time. Most of us are continuing with our day-to-day duties from home and with the right tools, this transition can be seamless.

At the heart of all the changes to health and social care duties is the desire to make a difference, to help as many vulnerable people as humanly possible. The postcode lottery is not intentional; workers on the other side are not deliberately delaying applications; they are oftentimes hampered by other considerations. Technology is a key consideration in this argument and we can only hope that health and social care workers as a whole can see the power that technology can bring.

To conclude

2020 was meant to be a year in which the United Kingdom began to forge its identity outside of the EU. A key part of this was the embracing of the ideals laid down in the Digital 2020 agenda but before the year got going, Covid-19 arrived on our shores and the focus shifted. Resources were re-deployed to the frontlines and statutory considerations were reduced to make sure that enough health and social care workers were on the frontlines.

One area that has seen reductions is Education, Health and Care Plans, these have seen timeframes and criteria reduced. This is not welcome news for families across the country as they have already seen a service that has been accused of being a postcode lottery. It is a situation that is not perfect but without the necessary resources, understandable.

Technology is a key component in the battle against Covid-19, analysing data in the search for a cure and keeping the world working whilst at home. When it comes to EHCP plans it can be used to offset delays and expedite processes. It is an approach that worked wonders with the countries first bi-borough SEND service and can be used across other sites in the country. 


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