There has been an increase in the number of children and young people with education, health and care (EHC) plans. 2018 saw an increase of 34,200, a rise of 11 per cent on the previous year, meaning that there were a total of 354,000 individuals with EHC plans maintained by local authorities as of January 2019.

The number of new EHC plans being issued also increased, with 48,900 new plans being issued in the 2018 calendar year. This was an increase of 16 per cent from 2017. However pupils were on average waiting longer to receive a plan - in 2018, 60 per cent of new EHC plans were issued within 20 weeks, down from 65 per cent in 2017.  Regulations state that local authorities should finalise an EHC plan within 20 weeks of receiving a request for an EHC needs assessment. Of the total number of EHC plans, 39.2 per cent were held by pupils in mainstream schools, 38.6 per cent by those in special schools and 0.8 per cent by those in alternative provision.  Students in further education made up 16.2 per cent of those with EHC plans.

In September 2014 EHC plans replaced the previous system of statements of special educational needs (SEN), although the legal test of when a child or young person requires an EHC plan remains the same as that for a statement of SEN. The number of new EHC plans has increased each year since their introduction in 2014, while the total number of children and young people with statements of SEN or EHC plans has increased each year since 2010.

In the south east region there were some considerable variations in the number of new EHC plans that were issued. In Bracknell Forest there were 148 new EHC plans in 2018 compared to 62 in 2017, while in Buckinghamshire the 2018 figure was 628 new plans, more than double the 300 issued the year before. Meanwhile in Wokingham the rise was much more modest, with new plans increasing from 103 in 2017 to 107 in 2018.

The statistics were released on the same day (30 May) that campaigners delivered a petition signed by more than 13,000 people to Downing Street demanding action on the ‘crisis’ in special needs funding. Rallies were also held in 28 towns and cities across England. Nadia Turki, co-founder of the Send National Crisis campaign group, said: ‘We can no longer remain silent when our children are suffering for want of adequate government funding.’ Recent analysis by the National Education Union (NEU) suggested that the number of children and young people with an EHC plan had increased by 33 per cent since 2015, contrasting with a 6 per cent increase in the high needs block funding over the same period. This represents a funding shortfall of £1.2bn the NEU argues.

Commenting on the day of action Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “School funding cuts have made second-class citizens of a generation of children. We are reaching the point where a child with additional needs, be that disability or a mental health condition or behavioural issues, is immediately severely disadvantaged. For these children the idea of fair access to education is nothing more than an empty promise’. He added ‘We urgently need the government to recognise the true scale of the problem and to release more money from the Treasury, both for schools and for health and social care services.’

Responding to the protests children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: ‘Our ambition is for every child, no matter the challenges they face, to have access to a world-class education that sets them up for life’. He said the government had allocated £6.3bn for high-needs funding this year, compared to £5bn in 2013, and that they would be revising the SEND code of practice to improve ways to identify and meet special educational needs.

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