Nearly 9,000 children with special educational needs missing out on schooling

ITV News' Social Affairs Correspondent Stacey Foster spoke to the families still unable to access any kind of formal education for children with special educational needs

Over 1.5 million school pupils in England have special educational needs.

Most are assisted through SEN support in schools. But there are more than half a million children and young people with an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP or EHC Plan).

An EHCP is a document generated by the local authority following an assessment of a children’s special educational needs and any relevant health and social care needs.

It specifies provisions which will deliver additional support to meet the pupil’s needs.

In 2022, 114,482 requests were made to local authorities for an EHCP. This is up from 93,300 in 2021 (23%).

But while the numbers of children and young people with EHCPs has gone up every year since 2010, exclusive data obtained by ITV News has found that 8,660 children in England, Wales and Scotland who have an EHCP still are not accessing any formal education.

5,254 children in England and Wales who have an EHCP don’t have a place at any school.

One of those children is six-year-old Abdul-Quddus. He has had an EHCP for over two years, but has been out of school for 23 months.

His mainstream school couldn’t meet his needs so he has been given a place at a specialist school, however it is too far away.

His mum, Dare, claims that the council have not provided a suitable school which delivers the additional support he has been promised in his EHCP.

Quddus' mum, Dare, claims that the council have not provided a suitable school. Credit: ITV News

Quddus is left with no other school to attend, so is falling behind.

Dare said: "I worry every day for his future. I worry every day because I’m like what’s gonna become of him when he’s not having the same opportunities as his peers.

"So I just have that worry and that fear of what’s gonna happen to my child at the end of the day what’s gonna happen to him?"

A London borough of Bexley spokesperson said: “We cannot discuss individual cases in any detail, but we are able to confirm that the Council’s priority is to address the best interests of each child, taking into account their particular needs.

"With this statutory duty in mind, a place was made available from the point at which Ms Olaifa-Oyeniyi’s son reached school age in an appropriate school, suitable to his needs.

"Furthermore, we can confirm that following Ms Olaifa-Oyeniyi’s appeal to the SEND Tribunal, the outcome supported the Council’s proposal."

For Tesse, getting an EHCP for her daughter Bo has been a battle but the real fight is coming now.

Bo hasn't accessed any formal education for 17 months. Credit: ITV News

The local authority have said that Bo needs to be in a specialist school to meet her needs because she has autism.

But there is no place at a special school, so she hasn’t accessed formal education for 17 months.

On Tuesdays she goes to farm school in Leeds, which is paid for by the local authority, as part of an alternative provision to meet her needs.

I asked Bo’s mum, when she thinks her daughter will be back in education. Tesse said: "When there is a school that will say, 'Yes we will embrace you yes, come in, join us.'

"But I am very well aware that we won’t know that - it’s like winning the lottery because there are not enough spaces so even though there are a few schools that I would like Bo to go to and I know Bo would do very well there.

"If they think they can’t meet her needs then they’ll say no and then we’re back to square one and then I don’t know what to do."

A Leeds City Council spokesperson said" “In Leeds we have seen an unprecedented level of increase in the number of EHC Plans in the last two years which has far outstripped national levels.

"We are working hard to address the issues that have arisen from this increase, including the delays and the availability of places in specialist schools.

"Despite a national shortage of specialist school places, in Leeds we have created more than 600 extra places in the past four years and continue to look at opportunities to further increase this number moving forward.

"We remain committed to working with our families, children and young people to ensure the best possible outcomes for every child in Leeds."

The first battle for many parents is getting an EHCP in the first place.

Sonny is 12, and lives in Brighton. He’s been on a waiting list of some sort since he was eight.

They have not yet been granted an assessment, despite his autism diagnosis.

His mum Kirsti told me that the system is working against children like Sonny and relies on parents refusing to give up.

Sonny, 12, has been on a waiting list of some sort since he was 8. Credit: ITV News

"There’s so many times where I’ve felt like I’m banging my head against a brick wall," Kirsti said.

"There’s so many times where Sonny has been so distressed in the mornings when he was younger and trying to make it in to school but couldn’t get out of the door and then we’d both have big meltdowns and we’d both be exhausted so you’d have whole days wiped out.

"I did ask for a reduced timetable of three days a week and that request was declined and I was told that Sonny had to do five days per week - fail at that first - and then we would be granted a three day week."

A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesperson said: “We cannot comment on individual cases.

“However, we do work closely with schools to ensure there is a range of advice and support available for their pupils, as well as making sure that they are working with parents to provide an inclusive curriculum tailored to individual needs.

“We also encourage schools to provide a range of provisions that ensure that those pupils can access education."

The government has published its plan to reform SEND in schools with plans for national standards, electronic EHCPs and new qualifications for teachers. 

The Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza said the system is “adversarial”.

The latest data shows that 98% of parents appealing the decision of a local authority not to issue an EHCP or aspects of the document will win their appeal which is resulting in legal costs for councils and adds to the pain and stress of the process for parents.

Appeals are also up 24%. 

She said the system needs total reform because at the moment it is obsessed with asking a child, "What is wrong with you?” not “how can we help?”.

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