Reviewing the needs of children with an EHCP in a post-COVID world
There were 390,109 children and young people with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans maintained by local authorities as of January 2020(1). This was before COVID-19 was the only topic on people's minds, before the country endured three lockdowns and before 8.9 million pupils had their education and lives disrupted in ways we could never have imagined.
Towards the end of 2020, local authorities were already beginning to see an increase in requests for EHCPs as pupils returned to school after the initial COVID-19 impact. We can only expect this to increase further when schools return later this year. It is only then we will begin to see the impact of lockdowns on their social, emotional and mental well-being and the impact of home-schooling on their learning and progression.
The impact of this growing number of EHCPs and the likelihood that existing EHCPs will need amending, as new needs are identified and progress towards current outcomes stalled, is that it will increase the pressure on schools, local authorities and the education sector as a whole. I was pleased to see that the government had put forward £42 million to extend projects for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) on top of the £730 million for High Needs Funding(2). But as demand grows from some of the most vulnerable in society for this pot of money, the question is, will it be enough and how will we know?
A living EHCP
The EHC Plan is ‘supposed’ to be a live document outlining the key needs and outcomes with the provision required to meet these. The idea of them being a live document was to deal with one of the problems of the previous ‘Statement of SEN’ which could sometimes go unchanged for years, with the needs of the young person grossly out of date. However, EHCPs only remain live if they are reviewed. There is regularly too much emphasis placed on the initial funding given when an EHCP is completed. It’s perceived as though it’s the final part of the process and the funding will remain the same forever when, in fact, it’s just the starter for ten. Where EHCPs come into their own and have the potential to deliver the intended results is at the annual review.
The annual review is the opportunity to see if things are working as expected. Is the provision detailed moving the young person towards meeting their outcomes? Does the funding need to change due to the amendments required?
Annual reviews will be the place where we start to really understand the impact COVID has had on young people with EHCPs. We will learn if there are categories of needs which had not previously been widely recognised, but must be now in order to support these young people effectively. How much has progress towards outcomes stalled? And are these even the right sort of outcomes now? Are there new challenges for these individuals to overcome and how are we going support them? What new services are needed and how are we going to put them in place?
There will be a huge amount of information which will come out of these annual reviews: needs going up, some coming down; but this information is so qualitative, and embedded so deeply into individuals’ plans, it is hard to understand the whole picture for each young person and keep track of where changes in need have occurred.
Tracking progress and change over time
To understand the true impact of COVID and whether the amount of money that is available for high needs is enough, we need to be collecting some quantitative information about the needs of young people, to build up a fuller picture and to show what is working and what is not. Being able to break down the needs into specific areas, not just pure academic needs, but ‘dealing with change’ and ‘interacting with peers’, so we are able to meet these needs and hopefully reduce the level of need by developing and commissioning the appropriate provision to overcome the long-term impact of COVID.
All of this information will be found in annual reviews and there is so much we can be doing with it to understand and improve, but first we must have the right and easy to use digital tools to enable local authorities to collect this information, alongside the work they are already doing.