ALMOST two in every three plans issued by BCP Council to assist children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities who need more support were not issued failed to hit the specified deadline.

The local authority issued 507 new education, health and care plans (EHCPs) in 2021.

However, 332 of these (65 per cent) were completed beyond the 20-week timeframe stipulated by government.

While this was an improvement on the previous year where just 23 per cent were issued on time, it remains significantly worse than the 2019 figure of 89 per cent on deadline.

EHCPs are for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more assistance than is available through special educational needs support.

The government said plans should identify the educational, health and social needs of the individual and set out the additional support available to meet these needs.

Councils are responsible for creating EHCPs, with a draft sent to a parent or carer of a child before the family has 15 days to comment on what is contained in the document.

Local authorities are supposed to up to a maximum of 20 weeks from the date they receive a request for an assessment to the delivery of the final EHCP.

Requests for assessment can be made by a parent, by a young person themselves if they are aged 16 to 25 or at the request of a doctor, health visitor or teacher.

The figures on BCP Council’s failure to meet the 20-week deadline in recent years have been revealed following a Freedom of Information request by the Daily Echo.

The number of new EHCPs issued by the council, excluding reviews, has increased by 47 per cent from 2019 to 2021, having dropped in 2020 – likely due to the pandemic.

BCP Council said it was facing a “challenging environment”, with a national shortage of educational psychologists making it difficult to recruit and retain the staff needed to issue EHCPs within the target timeframe.

The work of the educational psychologist is a legal obligation involved in issuing the plan.

Asked what steps have been taken to improve, a council spokesperson said: “We have a proactive plan in place to improve our performance.

“We are also finalising plans to use assistant educational psychologists to support with assessments and we are exploring new approaches to improve educational psychologists’ recruitment and retention.

“In the autumn term, our educational psychology team will prioritise statutory work to help clear the current backlog.

“We continue to work closely with our joint commissioning partners in health.

“Our SEND leadership is preparing proposals to increase the number of case officers and technical business support.

“This will help to make sure we can deal with the large increase in requests to assess. The SEND team has already recruited several additional case officers and the service has been re-designed to reduce caseloads and enable all case officers to work on EHC assessments.”