Call to overhaul Education and Health Care plans to ease psychologist shortage

A local authority which has bucked the national trend by improving on the delivery of plans for children and young people with special educational needs is calling on the Government to cut red tape surrounding the legal documents.

A meeting of North Yorkshire Council’s executive heard while the authority was concerned it did not have sufficient funding to cope with the soaring demand for Education and Health Care (EHC) plans, a national shortage in educational psychologists was hampering efforts to issue the plans within the 20-week target.

The timeliness of the plans is part of a drive by the authority to intervene as early as possible to provide crucial support to children and young people with special educational needs, as well as families, schools and local authorities.

The calls follow the Department of Education announcing more than £10m would be invested in training from next month over 200 extra educational psychologists, whose advice is a key component in the EHC plans.

Government officials claim it has made an additional £3.7bn available to councils to ensure they are able to deliver key services, including through funding for educational psychologists.

The number of pupils nationally with an EHC plan has increased by nine per cent over the last year to almost 390,000, and by a total of 64 per cent since 2016.

Earlier this year, North Yorkshire Council forecast an increase of about 584 children and young people financially supported through EHC plans in 2023-24 in different types of provision, representing an expected increase in demand of 13 per cent in the next year alone.

An officer’s report to the meeting stated the number of EHC plans being issued within a 20-week period had improved considerably on previous
years, although levels of performance reached before the pandemic are yet to be achieved.

Some 59.5 per cent of new EHC plans since April were issued within 20 weeks, compared to just 22.6 per cent in the same period last year and the rate falling to just 50 per cent nationally.

The meeting heard the improvement in timeliness in North Yorkshire had been achieved despite a sustained upturn in requests for and production of EHC plans.

The meeting heard the council had contracted agencies to help address the backlog in advice from educational psychologists, but that nearby authorities were now also using the same pool of agency psychologists.

Children’s services executive member Councillor Janet Sanderson said such was the rising number of children being considered for EHC plans, the authority did not have sufficient finances to resource the assessments properly.

The council’s children’s services director, Stuart Carlton, told members the Government needed to reform the system on how EHC plans were completed to get the documents completed within the target.

He said: “I don’t see a national plan to rectify that, and that’s of deep concern to us nationally around how that’s going to move forward.

“There is no easy quick fix in the long term to this, apart from significant reform of the framework from the Department for Education.”