At the end of last week, the Department for Education (DfE) published their annual statistical summary of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) in England.
These figures can tell us a fair bit about what’s going on in parts of the SEND system – but before we dive in, it’s worth remembering that there’s things that these numbers can’t tell us:
- The stats don’t cover children and young people who don’t have an EHCP – you’ll have to wait until the summer for those figures (2021 here)
- This data comes from a local authority census return. It mostly just tracks EHCP paperwork and processes. The stats don’t tell you anything directly about the quality of support, or even whether the EHCPs delivered any support at all.
It’s also worth remembering that these annual figures are being released into a policy environment that’s different from last year.
The DfE have now published their SEND & Alternative Provision Green Paper. They clearly believe there are too many EHCPs in the current SEND system, that too many children and young people with EHCPs are in expensive specialist placements, and they think these things aren’t just a symptom of rot within the SEND system, but a driver of the rot.
You can take issue with that – but that’s the way the DfE are approaching changes to the SEND system, and they will be looking over these new EHCP stats very, very closely.
So what do the figures say? If you’re in a hurry, check our two infographics at the bottom-- the figures and the Hall of Shame. But otherwise, keep reading…
The 2022 EHCP headlines
- EHCP numbers are continuing to climb – In January 2022, there were over 473,000 children and young people with an EHCP in England. That’s 10% up on the previous year – a growth rate that’s been steady for several years now.
Overall EHCP numbers are nearly double what they were in January 2015, at the start of the SEND reforms. Much of that increase is because since 2014, it’s been easier to get and keep statutory SEND provision after the age of 16. All the same, since the pandemic the net growth in EHCP numbers has been fastest and greatest in the school sector.
- EHCP numbers are still rising faster in mainstream schools than in special schools – This is a trend that preceded the pandemic. The number of pupils with EHCPs in mainstream schools (including units, resource bases, and non-specialist independents) has grown by 11% year-on-year, whilst the number in special schools grew by 7%.
Some of this is because state-funded specialist provision is stretched tighter than it’s ever been (both in mainstream units and resource bases, and in special schools). It’s also worth noting that the number of children and young people with EHCPs in alternative provision or pupil referral units increased by 11% - a far greater increase this year than last.
- The number of requests for EHC needs assessments rose in 2021 – Last year, schools, parents and carers made over 93,300 requests for an EHC needs assessment. That’s 13% up on the pre-pandemic figure in 2019.
The trouble with formal education
The formal education system just isn’t working for a growing number of children and young people with EHCPs. As of January 2022, there were over 32,700 children and young people with EHCPs who were either being educated outside a nursery, school or college, or who were waiting on the placement named in their EHCP to materialise, or who weren’t getting any form of education, employment or training at all.
In 2018, just 2% of children and young people with EHCPs fell into these categories. This year, it’s 7%. All of the children and young people in this cohort have an EHCP that should specify provision and placement – but right now, most of these kids are effectively educationally homeless.
This is the fastest-growing cohort of children and young people with EHCPs - and yet, the Green Paper has almost nothing to say about them.
SEND system leaders are fixated on "demand". But very few of the tens of thousands of families in this situation are demanding education like this. For the most part, they’re forced into it by supply-side failure.
Something else that the DfE want to address is the wild variation in the SEND system that occurs simply because of where you live. The EHCP stats show that postcode lotteries are still rampant.
- Overall, local authorities refused 22.3% of initial EHC needs assessment requests in 2021 – fractionally up on 2020. As with every previous year on record, which LA you live in makes a huge difference to the likelihood of refusal – you can see your own LA on this interactive map, or check our ever-popular Hall of Shame further down this post.
If your child got an EHC needs assessment in 2021, then their chances of getting an EHCP generally remained high – although as ever, this tells you nothing about their chances of getting a properly specified and quantified EHCP.
On average, in 2021 local authorities refused to issue an EHCP in 6% of cases – a slight uptick on last year. See the image below, or the interactive version, and the Hall of Shame for more detail. A sizeable chunk of LAs (about 30 of them) are refusing to issue significantly more EHCPs than they used to.
- Overall, 59% of new EHCPs were issued within the statutory 20-week deadline in 2021, a dreadful level of compliance with statutory duty that’s been fairly steady for years. Again, your chances of getting a plan on time vary massively according to where you live. Ofsted Inspectors might also want to check a dozen LAs who appear to be making lavish use of an ‘exception case’ loophole to sex up their statistics. As before, check this interactive map and the Hall of Shame to find out what’s going on in your LA.
This year, we were hoping to be able to use the DfE’s data to show how often local authorities were conducting EHCP annual reviews. That’ll have to wait for another year, as the expected data wasn’t published last week. Why? There’s no official explanation, but it’s likely that not enough LAs were able to submit reliable annual review figures this year.
Pressure from the centre
Basically, the DfE provides the LA with extra bailout high-needs SEND funding. In return, the LA agrees to stick to a set of terms and conditions that the DfE has set. Typically, these terms and conditions require ‘managing demand’ or ‘clarifying assessment thresholds’ for EHCPs, and less frequent use of certain types of SEND placements. And yes, those ‘quote marks’ are as Dr Evil as they sound.
Does the recent EHCP data show that these ‘safety valve’ interventions are having the impact on EHCPs that the DfE want from these LAs?
Not really - but it’s a mixed picture, and it’s early days. So far, we've seen:
- All five of these LAs refused EHC needs assessments more frequently in 2021, compared to 2020 – but not by much. The same was true for refusal to issue EHCPs.
- Three of the five LAs issued fewer EHCPs in 2021 than they did in 2020 – but two of them issued a higher number of plans, year-on-year.
- Despite pressure from some of the ‘safety valve’ agreements, only one of the five LAs managed to discontinue any EHCPs on the grounds that a child’s needs could be met without one. In that one LA, the number of discontinued plans was tiny.
- Only two of the five LAs managed to reduce the number of children and young people with SEND in independent or non-maintained special schools – and not by much.
We’ll keep watching the numbers and skullduggery here. There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes with other cost-cutting and demand-shaping wheezes. But going from this data, the first round of ‘safety valve’ agreements hasn’t shaken EHCPs up radically.
Infographic 1: The EHCP Stats 2022
Infographic 2: The 2022 EHCP LA Hall of Shame
- The SEND Review was published on Tuesday 29th March 2022. The consultation closed on July 22nd
- There is a dedicated website with alternative versions, languages and formats here
- The Green Paper is a DISCUSSION document, split into six chapters, with 22 consultation questions.
- See a list of all SNJ's posts on the SEND Review, including our analysis articles.
- Alternative versions of the consultation document: Large print PDF version | Order a copy | Easy read version | British Sign Language (BSL) version | Guide for children and young people
- Can you help support our work?
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- Miracles and magic: Delivering Better Value in SEND. But better value for whom? - September 8, 2023
- What’s new with the government’s SEND Change Programme? - August 29, 2023
- EHCPs in England in 2023. More plans but only half on time—and more efforts to take them away. Plus our annual LA Hall of Shame - June 9, 2023