EXCLUSIVE: DfE answers further questions on “targets” for EHCP cuts, removing children from specialist provision and plans to boost SEND in schools

After our articles on Matt’s discovery of the apparent 20% cuts targeted for EHCPs for local authorities in the Government’s “Delivering Better Value” in SEND programme, we were contacted by the Department for Education’s SEND team who wanted to give a fuller response to some of the questions we posed. This is in addition to the letter from the new Minister David Johnston, that we covered here.

We’re pleased to say that we received their response at the end of the week and we want to bring it to you in full, without any editorialising or comment from us, which we think is fair.

What were the questions?

  1. Is the DfE, or is it not, targeting a 20% cut in EHCPs.
  2. Is the DfE, or is it not, aiming to pull children out of independent SEND placements where they are settled, and insert them back into mainstream schools (from where they have most likely already crashed and burned, often causing significant trauma and mental health problems?)
  3. Why is the DfE relying on its new buzz-phrase of “Ordinarily Available Provision” in mainstream schools to try to meet the needs of children with significant SEND, when schools have inadequate resources and training to provide or implement such reasonable adjustments? While it’s true the Universal SEND Services programme is aiming to upskill school staff, this is at an early stage. The Initial Teacher Training framework still has a woefully inadequate amount of SEND training and a review is not yet underway.
  4. While the DfE says it will “ensure LAs comply with the law”. But how can it do this when it is the one telling them to take action to cut EHCPs? If a child’s needs require the provision of an EHC plan, according to the Children and Families Act 2014, under what remit will an LA refuse one or remove one? As Matt says - it can only be an unlawful one.

Whether the following answers these questions sufficiently for you or not, we will leave it for you to decide, but we are grateful to the Department for Education officials for sending through this response. Should it seem that your local authority is seeking to refuse an assessment, a plan, or to cease a plan that is still needed, you should show them this. If you have checked your own LA’s agreement with the DfE if they have one, and see anything that looks like a blanket target or wording that is potentially unlawful, again, please also let us know (we are preparing a form this week). Note, individual agreements with LAs are not the same as the now-infamous Newton Europe contract with the DfE. Not every LA is on the DBV or the Safety Valve programme. Yet. The law has not changed - and anyone who tells you it has is either badly informed or lying. Please read on...

The response from the DfE SEND team, in full

“At the heart of our reforms to the SEND and AP system is a commitment to establish a single national SEND and AP system that delivers for every child and young person with SEND. Our aim is to both give families confidence that their child will be able to fulfil their potential through improved mainstream local provision – and, for those children and young people whose needs mean they require an EHCP, that they get access to the support they need quickly without parents and carers facing an adversarial system. 

Ultimately, by improving the quality of SEN support in mainstream schools and ensuring children get access to it earlier in their education, fewer children will need to receive an EHCP to get the support they need because their needs are already being met.  

However, the DfE has no targets to reduce either the number of EHCPs issued, nor the overall number of children and young people with EHCPs. There have been no changes to the law and decisions about individual children and young people and whether they require EHC plans must be made on an individual basis, following the processes and requirements set out in the Children and Families Act 2014.  

We understand that concerns have been raised that we’re attempting to reduce the number of new EHC plans issued via the delivery contract for the Delivering Better Value (DBV) programme. This is not the case. A specific percentage reduction in EHCPs issued is not something our DBV delivery partners are held to, nor a goal the DfE is working towards, nor a target that LAs must agree to secure grant funding. The 20% reduction figure referred to in the contract with Newton Europe (which relates to projected EHCP growth rather than the current number of EHCPs) simply reflects an impact we might expect if the Delivering Better Value programme successfully enables schools and LAs to identify need early and provide the appropriate support without an EHCP being required.

You also asked about independent special school placements. The DfE has no aims for children to be removed from independent school or college placements. Independent special schools play an important role in the SEND system and we fully recognise the expertise and value that many offer their pupils. It is important to note that changes with any placement in specialist provision are subject to statutory processes, and where a parent or young person disagrees with the institution named in the EHC plan, they can appeal to the Tribunal. There are no plans to change this protection for families.

You also mentioned our use of the term Ordinarily Available Provision. This reflects our focus on improved mainstream and refers to the range of support provided to meet a range of needs without requiring formal diagnosis or specialist support. The Universal SEND Services programme runs from May 2022 until Spring 2025 and aims to increase the range of this provision, with good results so far: 6,500 school and college staff have accessed free online training, 81 schools and over 135 colleges have identified and led their own SEND-focused improvement projects and over 90,000 professionals have undertaken autism awareness training.

I am pleased to have had the chance to clarify these points and we look forward to continuing to work with you in improving the experiences of children and parents of the SEND and AP system.

Department for Education

The polite bit…

Thank you to the senior DfE officials who sent this response. I do believe they want to improve the lives of children and young people with SEND and are taking the steps they think will do this. Obviously, we disagree on whether many of these steps will have the desired impact as we have previously stated, and we’ll keep advocating for what we believe is needed, as you would hope (Please donate to help us do this if you can)

What is your view? And what’s next?

Having read the expanded response, we’d be very interested to hear the views of those LAs and any other stakeholders involved if this is how they interpreted their agreements. Do let us know.

In our next post, we will be telling you what to look out for, asking for your recent experiences and information, and if you have any evidence of unlawful cuts to SEND provision or EHCPs, so please sign up for new post alerts so you don’t miss it.

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Tania Tirraoro

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