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Pushy parents ‘not to blame’ as schools lead ECHP bid surge

Schools are twice as likely than parents to have requests for education health and care plans (EHCPs) approved by councils, new research has revealed.

Freedom of information data collected from councils by Special Needs Jungle (SNJ) shows that 20 per cent of school and college applications for the statutory SEND support plans were rejected, compared with 51 per cent of parental requests. 

Researchers claim the findings counter what they say is a growing narrative, including from councils and government, that “sharp-elbowed” parents are driving up demand.

While government data shows that 22 per cent of needs assessment requests were rejected in 2022, this is the first breakdown on who those requests were from. 

‘Councils must explain why families snubbed’

SNJ’s data, from about three-quarters of councils, also suggests the national rejection rate for EHCPs could reach 29 per cent in 2023. 

SNJ’s data shows that schools made up two-thirds (63 per cent) of applications in 2023, compared with just 29 per cent of requests directly from parents and carers and about 7 per cent from young people or other organisations. 

The Department for Education is due to collect this data itself for the first time from next year. 

Matt Keer, SEND specialist at SNJ, said councils “need to explain why they are disproportionately refusing requests from families” and called for more transparency on decision making. 

The number of requests for EHCPs soared from 64,555 in 2017 to 114,482 in 2022, government data shows. 

Keer added: “It’s hard to credibly argue that families are the primary reason why EHCP numbers are increasing when they submit fewer than 30 per cent of requests for an assessment and most of those requests get refused.

“SEND system leaders are fixated on EHCP growth. Some of them see this as blameworthy, and some have taken a clear decision to blame families. But councils clearly know that most requests for assessments come from schools and colleges – not families.”

Schools ‘on back foot’ when parents lodge requests

Margaret Mulholland, SEND and inclusion specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said the figures show the “challenges” that schools “are having in meeting the needs of the growing number of children requiring SEND support”.

Margaret Mulholland

She added: “Where there is a lack of access to specialist support, this can lead to a reliance on EHCPs as the route to additional funding.”

Abigail Hawkins, a school SEND consultant, said that when schools apply it is normally because they want to take the lead on it, rather than just doing it on behalf of parents.

If a parent requests help themselves, “it can mean the school is on the backfoot trying to find evidence to support the request, such as assessment data, meaning the application quality isn’t quite as detailed,” she added.

Ginny Bootman, SENCO at Evolve Church Academy Trust, added that working with parents on applications “gives us more clarity and understanding regarding the individual child’s needs”.

The DfE was approached for comment.

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