SEND plans backlog in West Northamptonshire should be cleared 'within six months', according to the council

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A total of 124 plans were completed in one quarter of last year, however a further 313 requests for an education plan were submitted over the same period, leaving much work still to do

West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) has said its backlog in education, health and care plans (EHCPs) for special needs children will be cleared over the next six months.

Councillor Fiona Baker, portfolio holder for children and education, told the cabinet meeting on Tuesday (March 12) that the council had already invested in extra capacity to try and catch up with the demand. An EHCP is for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more support than is ordinarily available for their specific needs.

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A closer inspection of WNC’s performance report for October to December last year paints a worrying picture, with just 5.6 percent of EHCP requests being completed within the 20-week statutory time frame.

The Schools Forum meeting was held at the Forum, Towcester.The Schools Forum meeting was held at the Forum, Towcester.
The Schools Forum meeting was held at the Forum, Towcester.

Only seven plans were issued on time over the whole of quarter three. A total of 124 EHCPs were completed, however a further 313 requests for an education plan were submitted over the same period.

West Northants has seen a significant increase in requests for EHCPs which is above the national increase. The number of young people on a plan is 3,504 - this an increase of 13 percent from the same point last year.

The council cites a national shortage of educational psychologists and delays in receiving professional advice as the main reasons that requests cannot be completed on time.

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Cllr Fiona Baker said at the meeting: “It’s very clear we have much more work to do. We have put in just under half a million pounds of short-term additional capacity to get through our backlog.

“These people are in place and are working in our building at the moment and will clear the backlog over the next six months. Until the backlog has cleared the timeliness will not significantly improve.”

She then went on to address “significant interventions” that had set the ball rolling for improvements, such as the new Tiffield SEND school which will open in 2025, additional SEND units being added to existing schools, the launch of a SEND partnership and strategy, and collaboration with a new parent/carer forum.

Cllr Baker added: “We’ll also be taking forward a restructure of our service over the next few months which will increase our capacity to manage the additional demand we are seeing.

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“This, however, we realise doesn’t materially change the experience of children over the last few years. The interventions I’ve mentioned will take over two years to really improve our support and performance around SEND.

“We remain absolutely committed to getting this exactly right. I ask for your kindness and support over the coming months to enable us to maintain our improved trajectory.”

The council is currently undergoing an Ofsted and CQC inspection into their SEND services. It will run until March 22 and will look at children and families and partners across WNC, Northamptonshire Children’s Trust and healthcare providers.