Sharp rise in children with special needs approaching councils for support

The number of children in England approaching councils for special needs support has increased by almost a quarter in a year, latest figures reveal, with 170 young people now starting support plans each day.


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The number of children in England approaching councils for special needs support has increased by almost a quarter in a year, latest figures reveal, with 170 young people now starting support plans each day.

This comes as the Government is currently consulting over its proposed special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) reforms that it set out earlier this year.

Education and council leaders are gathering at the Local Government Association’s Annual Conference in Harrogate today to discuss the reforms with Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi set to address the conference tomorrow (Thursday).

The LGA, which represents councils, says emergency action is needed now, to help meet the rising demand for SEND support.

It is calling on the Government to scrap the high needs deficits councils have built up, as a result of the spiralling costs of providing support outstripping the SEND budgets available to councils.

New figures show the number of initial requests for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, which sets out the provision of SEND support for each individual, fell to 75,951 in 2020, following four consecutive years of increases, partly due to the impact of the pandemic and successive lockdowns.

This then jumped by 23 per cent to 93,302 in 2021.

With councils having to make difficult decisions over where support is provided, there were 62,180 new EHC plans made in the last year, amounting to 170 children and young people starting a plan each day.

There are now nearly half a million children and young people (473,255) on ECH plans – an increase of over 100 per cent since eligibility for SEND support was extended in 2014 to people aged 16-25.

While eliminating high needs deficits will help councils in the short-term, the LGA says boosting the inclusion of pupils with SEND in mainstream schools is vital.

This needs to include incentives for mainstream schools to take in more children with SEND as well as powers for councils to hold schools to account for the support they provide.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“The fact that 170 children and young people with SEND are starting EHC plans each day, demonstrates the huge pressures councils are under to ensure every child gets the very best support that meets their needs.

“While it was good the Government set out much-needed reforms to tackle where the current SEND system is not working, these will take time to be implemented.

“Action is needed now to help councils meet the rising demand and spiralling costs of providing support that they are seeing on a daily basis.

“This is why we are urging the Government to eliminate councils’ high needs deficits, which would help to significantly relieve the strain on councils’ budgets and enable them to better support children with SEND.”

Notes to editors

1.The Local Government Association will host its in-person annual conference between June 28-30 in Harrogate. Speakers will include Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey and crossbench peer Baroness Lola Young.

Please visit our Annual Conference website to view the full programme. To book your place, contact greg.burns@local.gov.uk for a media promotion code to obtain a complimentary pass.

2. Latest EHC plan figures published by the Department for Education and statistics from 2014