The BBC has learned that children in England with special educational needs are having to wait far too long for an education, health and care plan.

The EHC plans set out a child’s needs and the support to which they are entitled and so is a vital first step in setting the children on the right path.

Once a plan is asked for requested legally it needs to be delivered within 20 weeks.

Thanks to Freedom of Information requests, we have learned that 40% are taking longer than that.

12 Month  delays

BBC asked 152 councils in the UK  about the time they took to issue EHC plans.

They got detailed replies from 65 councils provided comparable data for the last four academic years, starting in 2014-15.

During that time  a whopping  twenty six and a half thousand applications took longer than 20 weeks to complete – including more than 6,000 last year alone.

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The list of Shame – Councils with the longest waits

  • Suffolk: 1,023 days
  • Tower Hamlets: 1,014 days
  • Isle of Wight: 1,005 days
  • West Sussex: 973 days
  • Liverpool: 945 days
  • Dorset: 924 days
  • Haringey: 915 days
  • Havering: 898 days
  • Southend-on-Sea: 871 days
  • Worcestershire: 870 days
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Suffolk has the dubious honour of been top of the list for delays when on applicaton took 1023 days to finalize. Yes you read that correctly , nearly 3 years.

They where quicker with their excuses for this delay. They highlighted 2 delaying factors, first  an increased demand for EHCPs had proved particularly challenging – as this took place at the same time as the transfer from the old system of Statements of Special Educational Needs (SEND).

The council’s cabinet member for education & skills Gordon Jones, stated: “Our priority is to ensure every child gets the correct help and support they need to prosper and develop.

“The increase in demand for education, health and care needs assessments for children and young people in Suffolk is a matter that I am taking very seriously.

“The development of our SEND strategy is driving improvement across SEND and all agencies involved in Suffolk.”

52  councils told us that they had taken more than 52 weeks to finalise an EHC plan for at least 1 child.

With thousands of families are still waiting longer than 20 weeks for a finalised plan, the data suggests the average waiting times are getting better at many councils.

Applications on the rise.

Thanks to better diagnosis the number of applications for EHC plans is on a steady upwards curve.

Records show 61 councils provided data on how many applications they had been receiving.

Between them, they were just short of 17,000 applications  for a needs assessment in 2014-15, but that figure rose to nearly 29,000  in the following year – a whopping  70% increase.

West Sussex County Council told the BBC it had seen nearly  a 50%  jump  in the amount  of EHC applications it received over the  last 4 years.

Funding from central government has not kept up with this growth in applications

“The national funding formula has not kept up with the increase in costs councils face as a result of more requests for EHCPs and specialist placements,” the council said.

Parents not taking this lying down.

The number of parents taking legal action to challenge them at various stages of the EHCP process nearly doubled over the four years – up from 1,041 in 2014/15, compared with 1,988 in 2017/18.

Fifty-eight councils provided comparable data on these appeals.

Judith from Hastings appealed when East Sussex County Council decided not to assess the needs of her daughter, Hope, who has autism.

“I submitted papers to a tribunal, by myself, I didn’t get any legal help. At that level it’s a paper tribunal, so you’re not ‘in court’ as such. But you still have to get your words in right.

The whole thing was very stressful but I had to fight for my child and her needs.