Agenda item


To show the position at the end of June 2023 with regard to EHCP timeliness, an area identified for improvement. The report focuses on the data, the capacity and resources to undertake timely statutory assessments, and the process improvements that will facilitate this.



Clare Curran, Cabinet Member for Education and Learning

Rachael Wardell, Executive Director – Children, Families and Learning (CFL)

Liz Mills, Director – Education and Lifelong Learning

Tracey Sanders, Assistant Director – Inclusion & Additional Needs SW

Julia Katherine, Assistant Director – Inclusion & Additional Needs NE

Sarah Carrington, Headteacher of Stoughton Infant and Nursery School, a member of Learning Partners Academy Trust

Anna Dawson, Family Voice Surrey Epsom and Ewell Coordinator

Leanne Henderson, Family Voice Surrey Participation Manager


Key points made in the discussion:

  1. The Cabinet Member apologised that timeliness of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) was not yet as good as it should be and said the Leader of the Council had confirmed their commitment to improving in this area. As part of the Phase Two Recovery Plan, she would ask for additional resources for Educational Psychologists (EPs) and SEND case workers at the July Cabinet meeting in order to address the backlog. The recovery plan is based on the assumption more resources are granted by Cabinet.


  1. The Family Voice Surrey Epsom and Ewell Coordinator described feeling stressed and impotent as a communications protocol agreed at a stage two complaint was not adhered to and her child was still without an EHCP on entering secondary school after waiting nine months to see an EP.


  1. The Headteacher of Stoughton Infant and Nursery School said the school had dealt with six different case workers this year. She described seeing a rise in anxiety and ADHD since Covid and an increase in inappropriate and challenging behaviour from children whom the school did not have the funds to properly support as demand surpassed the SEN notional budget, resulting in suspensions in infant school for the first time. She was frustrated to see available specialist infant provision unfilled because children were waiting for plans. She explained children were removed from the waiting list to see paediatrics at age five and there was then a 10-month gap before they could be referred to MindWorks. The Headteacher noted positive steps by the Council to improve communication with her school.


  1. A Member asked what support was being offered to schools when EHCPs were not delivered within the legal 20-week time limit, giving the example of the Earlswood Federation whose governors said they had calculated a £32,000 EHCP provision deficit. The Assistant Director for Inclusion & Additional Needs NE acknowledged the impact on schools and parents. She said they want to ensure children have the right support whether or not there was a plan in place, and their Specialist Teachers for Inclusive Practice (STIP) team contacted schools where delays were encountered. The Director for Education and Lifelong Learning added that they took their statutory duty seriously and in addition planned this summer to make the Local Offer website more accessible and transparent so schools and families understood the support available while waiting for an assessment. The Member suggested schools needed more funding. The Executive Director for CFL explained that funding for provision identified in an EHCP comes from the Dedicated Schools Grant’s High Needs Block, a finite amount from central government, and the Council had for years supplemented this with its own resources, which had led to a significant deficit on the Council’s balance sheet. The Safety Valve Agreement between Surrey County Council and the Department for Education (DfE) means the DfE has now injected additional funding with conditions attached.


  1. A Member asked how the Council ensured private needs assessments, for which compensation was temporarily being made available, were treated the same as a needs assessment developed by Surrey County Council (SCC). The Assistant Director for Inclusion and Additional Needs SW replied they were accepted if they met professional standards dictated by Health and Care Professions Council guidance and this was explained on the Local Offer website. Responding to concerns about the danger of creating a two-tier system, the Assistant Director said this had been a significant consideration; the Council was lobbied to permit the use of independent EPs and thought it sensible to do so temporarily. A Member pointed out the risk of parents spending money they could not recoup. The Executive Director for CFL emphasised the Service was not encouraging a huge uptake of parents seeking private assessments as the Council is responsible for commissioning them, however for a time-limited period they would not discount them if they meet the required standard. She agreed to make such criteria clearer on their website.


  1. In response to why performance in timeliness had deteriorated rapidly from 65% to 26%, the Director for Education and Lifelong Learning explained it was due to the gap between demand and capacity over the past 18 months. Surrey faced a severe reduction of EPs post-pandemic and attracting and retaining more was a priority. This needed to be matched by sufficient capacity in SEN and health teams to process assessments into plans. Asked why Surrey was performing poorly compared to other similar neighbouring authorities, the Executive Director for CFL affirmed that authorities better coping with demand were typically smaller with fewer EHCP requests, while recognising this did not apply to Hampshire. The most vulnerable children were prioritised.


  1. The Chair asked why the second phase of the recovery plan did not begin until May 2023 given the deterioration from February 2022. The Director for Education and Lifelong Learning explained 20 additional SEND workers were recruited in the autumn. A Member noted that the educational psychology service was still operating at 50% staffing capacity and asked when improvements would be forthcoming. The Director for Education and Lifelong Learning said current resources were now sufficient to meet the volume of new requests, so the backlog should not get larger. It would take until June 2024 to both ensure 60% or more EHCPs were being produced on time and clear the backlog. The Executive Director for CFL assured the Committee it would be alerted if expectations were not being met. The Cabinet Member explained the objectives of the Phase Two Recovery Plan were threefold: to routinely and consistently assess children’s needs within the statutory timescale, to offer better support to schools during the waiting time, and to make the service sustainable.


  1. Asked which partners affected timeliness and what commitments these partners had made in their budgets and action plans, the Executive Director for CFL said phase two involved speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and developmental paediatrics who were commissioned through the Children’s Community Health Contract, which did not at present have any additional funding committed for re-procurement. Some of these disciplines found it hard to complete in the timeframe and it was also difficult to commission provision once plans were issued because the capacity was not there. Integrated care systems had been required to reduce expenditure. The Member said she would like to see an impact assessment of the health partners’ static budget. The Executive Director noted that she had seen a draft impact assessment and that dialogue remained open between partners. The Cabinet Member for Children and Families invited the Committee to look at how to improve blockages at the stage with health partners. The Assistant Director for Inclusive & Additional Needs SW conveyed that occupational therapy was the therapeutic advice causing the most delay based on current data but they did not currently have data on MindWorks or developmental paediatricians.


  1. The Executive Director for CFL noted that improving EHCPs timeliness would mean they would need to accommodate a surge in budget pressure for Home to School Transport. The Cabinet Member for Education said demand would be more manageable if spread out.


  1. A Member asked for clarification on the requirement for assessment if there was reason to believe a child had special needs. The Assistant Director for Inclusion & Additional Needs NE responded that the legal threshold was broad and it was about deciding whether a child’s needs could be met by what was ordinarily available in the school. She said the Service had commissioned a significant programme of training and development for school staff from Schools Alliance for Excellence (SAfE) which schools could access on the Education Services website.


Actions/requests for further information:

  1. Executive Director for Children, Families and Learning to check if the Council’s advice to parents on repayments for privately commissioned EHCP assessment reports can be made clearer on the Surrey Offer website.


  1. Executive Director for Children, Families and Learning to answer in writing what data the Service has requested from MindWorks and when, and what the response(s) have been.


  1. Assistant Director for Inclusion and Additional Needs to provide details on:


·         the communications plan to respond to the issues highlighted in the Family Voice survey

·         the changes required to the IT system (Para 63 of the July EHCP Timeliness report) and the role this plays or does not play in timeliness, and

·         whether training for schools on additional needs and inclusion is mandatory and what happens to schools if they do not take up the offer of training.


  1. The Chair to attend Cabinet to speak on behalf of the Committee on the item on procuring increased Educational Psychology and SEN service capacity.



Supporting documents: