What Could be the Impact of a 20% cut in new EHCPs on Disabled Children and Young People?
By Edmore Masendeke, ALLFIE’s Policy and Research Officer
On 10 September 2023, the Guardian reported that the Government plans to cut the number of new Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) for children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) by 20%, through its “Delivering Better Value” (DBV) programme. However, the Government denied that the 20% is a target that it is working towards in communication with the Special Needs Jungle. The Government has said that the 20% is an expected outcome of the DBV programme, including improving early identification and the quality of SEN Support (school-based support for Disabled children and young people without EHCPs). As the latter outcomes are not associated with the DBV programme, but the SEND and AP Improvement Plan, and the two are being managed separately, the Government’s response has not reassured the disability community/ALLFIE that EHCPs will not be arbitrarily reduced through the DBV programme.
ALLFIE’s main concern is that a reduction in EHCPs will adversely affect Disabled children and Young people’s access to education and learning in mainstream educational settings. We also believe that Disabled children and Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds will be affected the most as evidence shows that Disabled children and young people experience higher levels of poverty and social disadvantage than the general population. In January 2020, close to a third (31%) of Disabled children and Young people were also eligible for Free School Meals (FSM). In addition to coming from under-resourced households, these children and Young people are more likely to be socially disadvantaged due to a range of intersectional injustices, such as generational poverty or poor living conditions.
Also, some of their parents are unable to work as they cannot find jobs that are flexible enough to allow them to both work and care for their children. Therefore, the cut in the number of new EHCPs is likely to put these Disabled children and Young people at risk of being excluded from school/college and achieving poorer outcomes than their non-disabled peers. This is not only because of their economic and social disadvantages, but also because their parents are less likely to have the resources to challenge a decision by a Local Authority not to issue an EHCP.
The number of pupils with an EHCP increased by 9% between 2022 and 2023 to almost 390,000, and by a total of 64% since 2016. This increase was partially driven by the need to secure an EHCP to ensure that Disabled children and Young people could get the support that they need in mainstream settings, as there is insufficient funding for children and Young people without EHCPs. Securing an EHCP gives children and Young people labelled SEND the legal right to support and has, unfortunately, become the only way that some children and Young people can get the support that they need in mainstream settings. Therefore, cutting the number of new EHCPs will make it difficult for Disabled children and Young people to get the support that they need to access and remain in mainstream educational settings, as the available support for those without EHCPs varies depending on what school/college you go to and local budgets. This means that there are disparities in the support available for those without EHCPs.
These disparities do not guarantee Disabled children and Young people equal access to education and learning opportunities in mainstream educational settings. This means that Disabled children and Young people at different schools/colleges have different education and learning opportunities, and these opportunities are most likely to be less than those of their non-disabled peers.
As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the UK is obliged to ensure an inclusive education system that is not discriminatory against Disabled children and Young people. This includes ensuring that they receive the support they require to facilitate their effective education within the general education system. While the UK has not yet domesticated the UNCRPD, the Equality Act 2010 prohibits all forms of discrimination against Disabled children and Young people and requires all local authorities, schools and colleges to make reasonable adjustments, to ensure Disabled children and Young people are not at a substantial disadvantage compared with their peers. Due to the discrepancies in the support available for those without EHCPs, some Disabled children and Young people are already at a substantial disadvantage compared with their peers. Cutting the number of new EHCPs is likely to put more Disabled children and Young people into a similar situation.
Therefore, before cutting the number of new EHCPs, the Government should ensure that the support available for those without EHCPs adequately addresses their support needs. It should be as flexible and responsive to the needs of Disabled children and Young people as possible. Support should also be adequately funded and more consistent across schools and local authorities. Cutting the number of new EHCPs, without first ensuring that the support available for those without EHCPs adequately addresses their support needs, is likely to reduce the education and learning opportunities for Disabled children and Young people in mainstream educational settings.