An MP has warned of a special educational needs provision crisis in County Durham. 

Easington’s Grahame Morris has urged the Department for Education to investigate the drop in the number of Education Health Care (EHC) plans issued within the region meeting the 20-week target.

The latest data showed a large decrease, dropping from 76.2 per cent in 2021 to 29.2 per cent in 2022. Nationally, over the same period, the figures decreased from 59.9 per cent (2021) to 49.2 per cent (2022).

An EHC plan is for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more support than is available through special educational needs support.

The Labour MP has now urged the government to offer increased support to families. 

He said: "I thank the concerned parents and teachers who have brought this matter to my attention. I understand their distress, witnessing vulnerable children with additional needs struggling in school due to inadequate support.

“Delays in EHC plans can severely impact a child's well-being and development. A 20-week target time, spanning over half a school year, is already concerning. Failing to meet this target in 70 per cent of cases will have lasting repercussions on educational attainment in County Durham.”

The local authority is under pressure from Mr Morris to improve services. 

Darlington and Stockton Times: Grahame Morris, Labour MP for EasingtonGrahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington (Image: Parliament)

“These statistics reveal the failure of the government and local authority to support our most vulnerable children, leaving them without the additional assistance required for educational success,” he added.

“Given this failure, the government, in collaboration with the council, needs to offer support for schools while awaiting the outcome of an EHC plan, especially in cases where plans have not been issued within 20 weeks."

However, Durham County Council said support is still being provided despite the stark figures, which have been caused by increased demand over the past few years. 

Cllr Ted Henderson, cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “Though we have seen a drop in the percentage of EHC needs assessments being completed within the 20-week target, this does not mean children are being left without support during the assessment process.

“In County Durham, there’s a very clear expectation that every child who requires special educational needs support should have an individual support plan, under what is known as our ‘graduated approach’. This extra support can be accessed by children who do not have an EHC plan, as well as by children who are currently waiting for an EHC needs assessment to be completed.

“As is the case in many other parts of the country, the speed at which we are able to fully complete EHC needs assessments and detailed plans is being impacted by a number of factors, the main ones being a big rise in requests since the pandemic, a national shortage of educational psychologists, and challenges in finding suitable provision for children who need a specialist offer.”

The local authority moved to reassure families that it is working to fix the decrease. 

Cllr Henderson added: “We cannot influence all of these factors but are doing everything we can to improve the situation for children, parents and carers. The steps we are taking include exploring all options to expand educational psychologist capacity, seeking opportunities to identify and meet needs earlier, and introducing a new casework system to help streamline processes.

“Alongside Hartlepool, Gateshead and Stockton-on-Tees, we are also a partner authority in the Department for Education’s regional change programme, testing out elements of the national improvement plan.”