Complaints about failures in the treatment of children with special educational needs (SEN) have increased significantly according to a new report from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

This shows that 45% more complaints were received in 2018-19 than in 2016-17 and that resulted in Ombudsman Michael King carrying out 80% more detailed investigations about Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans.

A large majority (87%) of the complaints he investigated are being upheld, something that Mr King describes as exceptional and unprecedented.

“Two years ago when the system was bedding in, we were concerned we were upholding around 80% of investigations,” he explained. “That we are investigating and upholding significantly more complaints two years later suggests a system in crisis.”

Voicing concern that some local authorities might be putting extra barriers in place to effectively ration scarce resources, rather than basing support on children’s needs, the Ombudsman stressed that there can never be an excuse for failing to meet the statutory rights of children.

The Ombudsman’s new report Not going to plan? Education, Health and Care plans two years on looks at the common problems found when investigating parents’ concerns.

Serious issues include delays of up to 90 weeks (and regularly of more than a year) when issuing a plan, not anticipating local needs, and a lack of oversight by senior staff.

Consequently, many children are not getting the right support at the right time.

The report highlights a number of case studies from investigations carried out by the Ombudsman during the past two years. It also offers councillors and senior council staff guidance and suggests ways in which they can scrutinise both the services they offer to families and the complaints they receive about those services.

Last reviewed 23 October 2019