Critical support from educational psychologists for vulnerable school children in Kent is at risk despite a staggering increase in demand for help, education chiefs have admitted.
The service provided by Kent County Council has seen an 81% increase in demand but is struggling to cope because of budget cuts and staff shortages.
The problem has been made worse because specialist psychologists are being diverted away from the work they do in schools to help draw up formal care plans for children with special needs.
These plans, known as ECHPs (Education Care Health Plans), were previously known as Special Educational Needs’ assessments.
The crisis has forced the council to abandon plans to incorporate the psychologists’ service into a new trading company being set up by KCC to sell support services to schools.
One head teacher said many schools now had no support at all for children who needed help.
KCC education director Matt Dunkley told staff in a newsletter the demand for help with statutory assessments meant it was becoming more difficult to provide other support services.
“Over this last year we have seen an 81% increase in the number of requests for statutory assessments and this demand does not appear to be decreasing.
“To meet this growing demand the service has also faced challenges in relation to staff recruitment and retention.
“The pressure on SEN services and the difficulties recruiting education psychologists appears to be a national trend.
"This means that schools now have no support" - school head teacher
“To meet our statutory responsibilities to complete SEN (Special Educational Needs) assessments we have already had to take the very regrettable decision to withdraw Education Psychology support from the LIFT process and to suspend trading with schools until September.”
LIFT refers to help offered to pupils with learning difficulties.
On the decision not to incorporate the service into the council’s trading company - The Education People - Mr Dunkley says that KCC felt “it would not be in the interests of children and young people and that to do so could place too great a risk and burden on the company and its ability to meet its other responsibilities.”
The company being set up by KCC has already had the date of its launch put back.
It had been scheduled to start operating in April but will now begin trading in September.
Around 500 staff are expected to transfer to the new company from EduKent, the authority’s in-house team.
One head teacher told Kent Online: “Educational psychologists are used for EHCP referrals and, because there are too few of them left, Kent has had to withdraw them from their other work supporting schools.
“This means that schools now have no support.”
Kent County Council has been contacted for comment.