Published: 08:40, 28 May 2021
| Updated: 13:24, 07 June 2021
The number of requests for special needs care plans for school children has rocketed following their return to the classroom after lockdown.
Statistics released by Kent County Council have revealed 445 requests for Education Heath and Care Plans (EHCP) were made this March.
Graham Jones - education specialist at Whitehead Monckton solicitors
This is an increase of 60% in two years with 279 requests made in March 2019.
Mark Walker, director for special education needs and disability at Kent County Council (KCC), confirmed the authority was facing an unprecedented number of requests.
He said: “Since schools reopened to all pupils in March this year, the number of requests for Education Health and Care needs assessments has increased to a level not previously seen in the county.
"Kent County Council staff are working closely with our partner agencies to deal with this increase in demand quickly and efficiently.
“It should be noted that most children and young people with SEND do not need an EHC Plan in order to receive the support they require since all education providers have a legal obligation to provide this support.
"An EHC Plan may be needed if the pupil’s current education setting is not able to meet their additional Special Educational Needs (SEN) through support provided by the school.
“SEND provision in Kent is the joint responsibility of both KCC and the NHS and any diagnosis that is required will be carried out by the health service.”
Parents are asking for the assessments after noticing their children struggling during homeschooling.
In January, our Secret Homeschooler discovered her child was dyslexic after struggling to get her to pay attention to her work.
"Was this due to lockdown and not getting a proper education or was it a problem like dyslexia?"
She said: "They were doing everything they possibly could to avoid it or do the bare minimum – everything was a struggle and a fight.
"I was becoming increasingly concerned about their attitude to learning and the strain it had put on us as a family.
"I started to realise they potentially had a problem with reading as they did not progress throughout the three months we were at home.
"Life was relatively normal from September through to December when schools were back, but I still saw that my youngest wasn't progressing with reading and writing as I would have expected.
"Was this due to lockdown and not getting a proper education or was it a problem like dyslexia? I decided that as a family we would have to pay and get a private assessment as the school said there wasn't a problem.
"We pursued this and it was confirmed my youngest does have dyslexia. It was a huge relief to know what was going on and has had a massive effect on how we have handled home learning this time around."
While more requests for assessments are being made, a study by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) also revealed the pandemic has likely led to more children being undiagnosed with having SEND.
The research found that for primary school children who reached year six, the key obstacle for support was inconsistent among schools in how they identify children as having SEND.
The head of a tutoring school that specialises in education for children with special educational needs says they have had an increase in demand.
Christina Saccoh, former head teacher and owner of The Tutor Boss, said: "Demand has gone through the roof in recent months, as parents are feeling let down and disheartened.
"Dyslexia, for instance, is a common learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling, it’s life-long and can become challenging particularly if undiagnosed.
"We’re finding some parents are now taking matters into their own hands and paying for private diagnosis and online classes, to ensure their children receive the tuition they deserve."
Karen Gillard from Gravesend, is the Primary Specialist at the school. She said: "Most children with special educational needs go to mainstream schools, however, many schools are struggling to meet the demand for SEN support due to lack of funding from local authorities, time restraints, resources and specialist equipment and teaching staff.
"It really is like a postcode lottery and devastating for families who are desperate for the help and support their children need.
"It’s sad to think that children from disadvantaged backgrounds and the poorest regions, have been worst hit when it comes to recognising and financially supporting schools and special need students, compared to pupils in more affluent areas."
While KCC are working hard to deal with the increase, Medway Council have not yet found the same problems.
A spokesman said: "We believe it is too early to fully assess the impact of the pandemic on children being identified as having a special educational need.
"We continue to read emerging research, liaise with DfE, health and school colleagues and colleagues in other local authorities to assist us to identify any themes and concerns in this area.
"Medway has not seen a drop in the number of requests for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) received which suggests that schools and parents are identifying children who have more complex SEND needs.
"We are aware of the number of children, in each school, who have an EHCP and if there are any concerns about inconsistency around identifying children, we are able to raise the concerns with schools."
To find out more about Tutor Boss click here.
Find out more about the Kent Local Offer for SEND by clicking here.