How does provision for educational, health and social needs differ between east London boroughs?
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If you’re a parent of a child with special needs, you will have seen changes to available support since new government legislation was launched in 2014.
Children and young people aged up to 25 who require extra help for their educational, health and social needs now receive an education, health and care (EHC) plan.
It’s a legal document outlining the extra help each child must receive from their local authority and replaces the previous “statement” of special educational needs (SEN) which focused on learning needs.
However, EHC assessments are not automatically granted by councils and some parents are struggling to get the help they desperately need - read Sadia’s story for more.
The most recent Department of Health data has also pulled up interesting variances between east London boroughs.
Newham is the lowest of several east London boroughs to issue new EHC plans within 20 weeks, measuring from the date of the assessment to when the EHC plan is given.
In 2016, the council only managed to deliver 33.3 per cent of new EHC plans within 20 weeks, a drop of 48pc from the year before despite 48 fewer plans being issued.
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In contrast, neighbouring boroughs Tower Hamlets provided 57.8pc of its new EHC plans within 20 weeks in 2016, while the figure in Barking and Dagenham was 83.1pc, 79.7pc in Havering and 51pc in Redbridge.
While Newham only issued 36 plans in 2016, other east London councils had much higher numbers with Redbridge coming out on top with 255.
In 2015 - the first year in which councils implemented EHC plans - Newham Council continued to deliver 100 pc of its support to existing beneficiaries through statements.
The following year 148 out of 514 cases had been moved to a EHC plan. This year for the first time, EHC plans were in the majority with 362 compared to 258 statements.
However, the overall numbers are once again lower than neighbouring boroughs.
In 2017, Barking and Dagenham had 365 EHC plans and 867 SEN statements, in Tower Hamlets it was 1,206 plans and 1,006 statements, Havering had 556 plans and 580 statements, and Redbridge had 1,001 plans and 580 statements.
In fact Newham was the third lowest borough in London to distribute EHC plans.
The inadequacy of some them has also left some parents, such as Sadia, questioning whether cost-cutting sits at the heart of much of the decision-making.
Newham Council denied this and said the figures do not reflect the support it offers.
A spokeswoman said: “We are an inclusive borough which means a the majority of our children who have special education needs or require extra support are schooled in mainstream schools.
“We work with our families and schools to determine the needs of our pupils and put in place the relevant funding to enable those children to develop and progress.
“Unlike other boroughs this means we can be more flexible in our approach and the support needed can be put in place earlier and without the need for an EHC plan.
“We do recognise that some pupils require EHC plans and this is determined by their level of need and whether the child is making the educational and developmental progress that they should.“
Single mum-of-two Sadia Nakimera says she has been fighting to get the right EHC plan for her eight-year-old son since May 2016.
Her child has autism and global development delay, a condition which means he reaches key development milestones late.
Royal Docks resident Sadia, 34, waited months for the plan to be finalised despite a successful application.
After threatening Newham Council with a judicial review, she received an unsatisfactory version in May of this year.
“It wasn’t anything we discussed,” she said of the key goals, citing one as teaching her son how to wipe his nose by the end of Key Stage 2.
“They were not ambitious, there were zero expectations.”
Sadia says she clearly requested one-to-one sessions in speech and language therapy, plus occupational therapy, in her paperwork.
She also asked for a therapy for autistic children called Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), so her son could understand what was asked of him.
A new plan was issued last month but without the amendments discussed at an earlier review.
Sadia said: “It is still saying my son has unidentified needs. The whole point of the plan is to address these needs and then put things in place.”
The “stressed out” mum now plans to take the council to tribunal.
A Newham Council spokeswoman apologised for the delay and said the local authority was “in the process of putting measures in place to try and prevent this from happening again”.
She added: “The plan provided for Ms Nakime’s son reflects a number of the amendments Ms Nakime requested as these were in line with Newham’s policies with regards to provision for SEN pupils, and the recommendations made by education and health professionals in this field.”
She said that while the council recognised ABA therapy as an effective method for some children with autism spectrum disorder, “there is insufficient evidence to support the exclusive use of this approach”.