Significant gaps identified in Merseyside support for children with special educational needs and disabilities

Local authorities across Merseyside must adopt a “genuinely holistic approach” to the provision of education for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), after research revealed significant gaps.

University of Liverpool Law School and Liverpool Law Clinic suggest the appointment of a lawyer with specialist knowledge of SEND law to take over responsibility for overseeing SEND cases, as well as the introduction of a system to ensure SEND officers are aware of, and comply with, time limits.

SEND officers should also communicate with parents and young people in an “honest, open and understanding manner”, with a record of such communication kept on file.

And increased oversight of school activity in relation to illegal school exclusions must take place “as a matter of urgency”.

The recommendations are made in the report, Children, Disability and Service Provision: A Liverpool/Merseyside Perspective by Seamus Byrne, Deborah Tyfield and Dr Amel Alghrani.

The report reveals what the authors call a “broad systems-wide failure” in the provision of SEND support across Merseyside.

It found that:

  • just 12.5% of applicants interviewed received an education, health and care plan (EHCP) within the timescale set out in law
  • 5% considered their EHCP, when delivered, to be vague and imprecise, with one respondent complaining it was “full of typing errors and spelling mistakes”
  • 88% said applying for and obtaining the relevant care had directly impacted their health, family and personal lives
  • 82% reported having to pay for either privately commissioned expert evidence or external legal or advisory assistance in order to secure support
  • 41% reported having to give up work, close down their business or drop to part-time hours to continue attempting to secure support

Seamus Byrne said: “There is no question that overall the respondents within this study found the process to be extremely difficult.

“They seemed unable to hold the local authority to account for delays, or felt powerless to force changes, and when they achieved any changes it was only following a difficult and time-consuming process.

“Parents felt they were unsupported and that they had to fight for services for their children.

“This clearly had an impact on most aspects of their daily lives, and in some cases continues to do so.”

Liverpool Law Clinic, which is part of University of Liverpool Law School, provides free advice to parents and carers of disabled children around EHCPs, support at school and access to social care support in the home.

For this report, they interviewed 17 parents of children with SEND in Liverpool and Merseyside and conducted five Law Clinic case file reviews, in order to determine the on-the-ground experience of service provision.

In total, 26 children of varying ages and with varying conditions, from autism to Down syndrome, were implicated within the study.

Seamus Byrne added: “Direct, personal testimonies of multiple and extensive illegal school exclusions strike right at the heart of the child’s right to education.

“And while local authorities are of course operating under increased workloads and within ever constricting financial parameters, the failure to communicate with and respond to parents in relation to their children’s educational, health and care needs has a direct derivative impact on the child herself.

“Put another way, children with SEND should not have their right to education summarily dismissed on account of their SEND.”

Children, Disability and Service Provision: A Liverpool/Merseyside Perspective was produced by University of Liverpool Law School and Liverpool Law Clinic. To read the full report, please visit https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/law/liverpool-law-clinic/children-with-disabilities-or-long-term-illness/children-and-disability-conf-2020/

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