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Special educational needs support failures within Derbyshire County Council

The scope and scale of failures to support Derbyshire’s most vulnerable children is being drip-fed to the public via incremental costly watchdog complaint decisions.

Complaints about Derbyshire County Council’s management of support it is required to provide to children with special educational needs are coming in thick and fast.

The authority has been on the receiving end of a large number of upheld complaints to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (a council watchdog).

In the past few months this includes nine complaint decisions involving families failed by the authority, with the council told repeatedly to improve services and pay out compensation.

Those nine cases combined have seen more than £20,000 paid out to families who have received insufficient support to meet their child’s needs.

In some cases this includes missing entire terms of school without support, with wholly avoidable losses in education – labelled “significant injustice”.

These all relate to education, health and care plans (EHC Plans) which are legally binding documents, for which the council is responsible, between the authority, parents, child and school, outlining how the child will be supported.

The council has more than 6,000 EHC Plans on its books, a figure which has doubled over the course of a few years, with the council making clear this has put pressure on their restricted resources.

One LGO decision details the council “did not have enough capacity to deal with requests”.

There is a set time period within which councils have to issue a draft plan to parents and interested parties and then a further mandatory timescale for a finalised plan, but complaints show in many cases this is breached by many months.

One of the nine most recent complaint decisions involves more than £10,000 being paid to one family after their child went without any education for four terms of school – from April 2022 to October 2023 (over a year and a half).

A further case saw a parent apply for an EHC assessment (which would lead to a plan) in August 2022 and they were still waiting for the final plan for their child as of the ombudsman’s decision in mid-March – more than a year and a half later and a reported 10 months overdue.

The council has previously repeated that issues raised with the watchdog all relate to a time period covering two entire years – 2022 to 2023 – during which the service provided was “not good enough and needed significant improvement”.

That same comment has continued to be issued with no further detail on the scale or scope of the problems encountered and not responding to a self-described lack of resources.

It was asked by the Local Democracy Reporting Service whether it felt it had sufficient resources to get services to where they need to be.

The council was also asked if the public can be reassured that the quality of service is being improved.
It was also asked if the council was being open and honest about the scale of the problems it faces in this area.

In response a county council spokesperson said: “Our priority is to ensure that every child and young person in Derbyshire, whatever their challenge or ability, receives the support and opportunities they need to thrive and we would like to apologise to the families affected in these cases who rightly expected a better service than they received from us.

“It is important however, to point out that these ombudsman investigations relate to issues experienced with our services predominantly around 2022 and 2023 where we’ve acknowledged our performance was not good enough and needed to significantly improve.

“We’ve made improvements in our SEND service since then which, despite challenges including a significant increase in the demand for Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and assessments, have led to better service delivery and efficiency.

“In response to the unprecedented demand for EHCPs and the impact on our ability to meet the 20-week deadline for some plans, we’ve invested an additional £1 million to allow us to take on more staff and restructure our services. 

“This has been pivotal in our ongoing effort to significantly reduce the backlog and work more efficiently on current and new plans to provide timely and effective support to children, families and schools.

“The latest data suggests we’re now in line with the national average in terms of the number of plans issued within the statutory timescale which is a huge improvement on our performance last year and we’re committed to building on this progress yet further. 

“This includes substantial investment in a new case management system going live in September which will transform how we support and communicate with families with SEND children.

“We’ve also recognised the growing need for ERS (Enhanced Resource Schools) and special school placements and have been working closely with special schools to expand availability.

“Meanwhile, we’re continuing to work closely with families to reduce the need for complaints and tribunal cases and we’ve started to see a reduction in complaints over the past few months as the improvements we’ve made begin to bed in.

“SEND support will continue to be a priority for our council and the investment and improvements we’re working hard to make show our commitment to building on the good progress already underway to give every child and young person in Derbyshire the best possible start in life.”

 

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