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  1. ITV Report

Families being forced to take Surrey to court over special educational needs

  • Sam Holder reporting from Guildford

High rates of parents who have children with special educational needs or disabilities have had to take Surrey County Council to court to get the right support, according to a highly critical report.

A joint OFSTED and Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection uncovered 'significant areas of weakness' in how the local authority provides Education, Care and Health Plans (EHCP) for children who need support.

Inspectors sent Surrey County Council a letter outlining their concerns Credit: ITV Meridian

In a letter to the council, inspectors described an 'overwhelming lack of confidence' among parents and have demanded a 'Written Statement of Action' from the council to explain how it will improve.

ITV Meridian has been contacted throughout the past 12 months by a number of parents in Surrey who have criticised how the council allocates support for children with special needs, something mirrored in the findings of the report.

Alicia spent £5,000 taking Surrey to tribunal for her son Kian Credit: ITV Meridian

Inspectors described parents and carers facing 'continuing difficulties' in even getting their children assessed by the council to see if they're eligible for help.

They also described high numbers of parents having to take the council to tribunal due to inadequate assessments and care plans.

One parent in Guildford, Alicia Hollow, had to spend £5,000 taking Surrey to court after they changed her son Kian's care plan and therapy. Kian has autism, speech and language processing disorders, dyspraxia and hypermobility. The judge found in Alicia's favour and ordered Surrey to pay back nearly all of her costs.

The council says it is already working on improving the service Credit: ITV Meridian

The council says "the education and care of children with special needs and disabilities is of paramount importance" and says it is already putting in a series of improvements.

The education and care of children with special needs and disabilities is of paramount importance to us and our partner agencies and before inspectors visited we were aware there was more we needed to do to make sure they always get the right support and were already putting in place a series of improvements.

– Surrey County Council spokesperson
Kian says specialist speech and language therapy has helped him make friends Credit: ITV Meridian
  • Analysis

Since the inspection at the end of October 2016, Surrey has taken some steps towards improving the situation.

They invited parents and experts to a 'Rapid Improvement Event' to hear their views on how the council could do better.

But one of the underlying problems affecting all councils is funding.

Surrey spends around £215m every year on special educational needs and disability support, but it says that under current government funding the council is about £24m a year short.

There are approximately 5,700 children with special educational needs care plans in Surrey. That equates to about 3% of the total number of students, which is higher than the national average of 2.8%. In West Berkshire however, 4.5% of pupils have a care plan.

Things were supposed to get easier for parents back in 2014, when the government reformed the process for getting the right educational support. Yet many parents say little has changed - and inspectors say there has been a significant backlog in switching over to the new system in Surrey.

So parents will be closely watching what improvements the council makes.