Two-thirds of Luton children face long waits for special educational needs support plans

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Two-thirds of children in Luton faced long waits for special educational needs support plans last year, new figures show.

Across England, the number of new education, health and care (EHC) plans rose by more than a quarter, but nearly half of all children and young people receiving one experienced prolonged waits before getting it.

An EHC plan is for children and young people who need more support than is available through conventional special educational needs support. EHC plans identify these needs and set out additional support required to meet them.

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Department for Education figures show 510 children and young people aged up to 25 received an EHC plan from Luton Borough Council in 2023. This was up from the 307 plans issued the year before.

Close up of pen pot in a school. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PAClose up of pen pot in a school. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA
Close up of pen pot in a school. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA

In Luton, just 32 per cent of all support plans were provided within the time limit.

Luton Borough Council apologised for the delays and said that the situation is “improving”.

Nationally, 84,428 new EHC plans started during last year, up by 27 per cent from 2022. However, the figures show just 50 per cent of them were issued within the 20-week time limit – a slight improvement from 49 per cent in 2022.

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Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The number of children needing additional support through education and healthcare plans is now at a record high, but many families are still waiting too long for the assessments, and provision that they need.”

He added: “The current system is simply not sustainable. The next government must tackle the Send crisis as a priority.”

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the ASCL, said: “Failure to match rising demand with appropriate government investment has brought the whole Send system to the brink of collapse, with schools being unable to afford the costs of Send provision, a lack of places available in special schools, and local authorities having huge high needs deficits.”

An EHC plan can only be issued after a child or young person has been formally assessed.

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Across the country, 138,242 requests for initial assessments were made – 21 per cent more than in the year before. This included 652 in Luton, with 89 of them refused by Luton Borough Council. Overall, 2,585 Luton children had an EHC plan as of January.

A Luton council spokesperson said: “There has been an increase in Education Health and Care (EHC) plan requests, particularly post-Covid and following the significant disruption to learning. The pressure of increased requests has impacted on the ability to complete EHCPs within the statutory timescales. However, whilst the figure has previously been 32 per cent across the year, this has improved as the local authority works to strengthen the assessment process.

"When including those EHCPs that were completed just outside of the twenty week deadline, 61 per cent were finalised in April this year. This shows an improving position.

“Whilst recognising that increasing demand is a national issue, we apologise for any delays experienced by our families and have a robust action plan to ensure EHC Plans are conducted within statutory timescales. Whilst plans are being drafted and agreed, our schools and support services continue to work to meet the education and health needs to make sure that all children in Luton get the right support at the right time.”