A system in crisis? Ombudsman complaints about special educational needs at alarming level

Ombudsman reveals it is upholding nearly nine out of every 10 cases it investigates.

Children with special educational needs and disabilities are increasingly being failed by the system designed to support them, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

In its latest report about the Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan process, the Ombudsman has revealed it is now upholding nearly nine out of every 10 (87%) cases it investigates – a startling figure compared with its uphold rate of 57% across all cases it looks at, discounting SEND cases.


The new report, ‘Not going to plan?’ looks at the common problems the Ombudsman is finding when investigating parents’ concerns. Serious issues include severe delays of up to 90 weeks – and regularly of more than a year – when issuing a plan, not anticipating local needs, communication and preparation for meetings, and a lack of oversight by senior staff.

The knock-on effect is that many children, often the most vulnerable in society, are not getting the right support at the right time, and this is having a significant impact on their education and attainment.

The Ombudsman is now investigating more complaints than it has ever done before.

In 2018-19 it received 45% more complaints and carried out 80% more detailed investigations about EHC plans than in 2016-17.

Ombudsman Michael King said: “We are now upholding almost nine in 10 investigations we carry out about Education, Health and Care plans. This is exceptional and unprecedented in our work.

“Two years ago when the system was bedding in, we were concerned we were upholding around 80% of investigations.

“That we are investigating and upholding significantly more complaints two years later suggests a system in crisis.

“I am now particularly concerned some authorities may be putting in place extra barriers to ration scarce resources, rather than basing support on children’s needs.

“While I can empathise with the difficulties authorities face, there can never be an excuse for failing to meet the statutory rights of children.

“I hope this report puts the children and their families’ experiences in the spotlight and the battles they face, and ultimately more urgency on the whole SEND system improving.”

The report highlights a number of case studies from real investigations the Ombudsman has carried out in the past two years since the EHC plan system came into force, and offers councillors and senior council staff guidance and suggested ways they can scrutinise the services they offer families and the complaints they receive about those services.

Disclaimer: This is an official press release from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

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