Sunderland education bosses slammed over missed school place deadline for youngsters with special educational needs

School place deadline missed for two thirds of special needs pupils.
School place deadline missed for two thirds of special needs pupils.

Education bosses in Sunderland have been criticised for failing to meet the 2019 school allocation deadline for dozens of Sunderland children with special educational needs.

Figures show Sunderland City Council failed to meet the final transition education healthcare plan or statement deadline for 61% of the 80 youngsters who require an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP).

The fact that Sunderland City Council has been unable to meet the deadline is quite concerning and hugely upsetting for parents

Imogen Jolley

The legal deadline for local authorities to notify the families of children who have an EHCP in place in regards to which school place they have been allocated was February 15.

Figures obtained via a Freedom of Information Request by specialist education law experts at Simpson Millar revealed that, in 2019, delays were reported for 49 children by Sunderland City Council.

Simpson Millar said those authorities who failed to meet the deadline are in breach of their statutory duty, as families who are not notified of their school by the deadline have less time to manage the transition process for the children, many of whom struggle to adapt.

And it urged parents to be aware that if they did not receive their transition education healthcare plan by the February 15 deadline that they are entitled to take legal action against the council to speed up the process of receiving notification, and for lodging a potential appeal.

A spokesman for Together For Children, which runs education services for Sunderland City Council, has blamed an increased demand for places for the shortfall but said it hoped to finalise all plans by the start of the summer term.

Imogen Jolley from Simpson Millar, said: “It’s the responsibility, and indeed the legal duty, of local authorities to carry out a Transition Review and an Education Health and Care needs assessment for children with special educational needs, who will be moving into secondary school this September.

“The February deadline was crucial for parents who needed time to prepare their children – many of whom need additional support during times of change - for the transition, and for those who wish to appeal the provision or placement set out in the plan.

“The fact that Sunderland City Council has been unable to meet the deadline is quite concerning and hugely upsetting for parents.”

Simpson Millar said the deadline was introduced to make sure parents and teachers have enough time to prepare a sensible transition for children who otherwise risk getting a poor start in secondary school, as well as providing sufficient time to lodge an appeal if parents are unhappy with the allocation.

Ms Jolley added: “It’s not uncommon for children to miss the start of the school year while the appeal process takes place.

“For any child missing out on the start of school can have a detrimental effect, but this is particularly true for children with additional educational or health related needs.

“For those that failed to meet the deadline, it is possible that they will be subjected to legal action in order to hold them accountable for failing to meet their statutory duty.

“The sooner a parent takes action against a local authority who has missed a deadline the greater chance they stand of getting prepared for September. Authorities usually engage quickly when threatened legal action when they have missed deadlines, as they know the courts will not be impressed.

“This time is crucial, so we’d urge parents to be vigilant, and to get in contact with our team of specialist education lawyers in the event of a missed deadline.”

A spokesman for Sunderland’s Together for Children, said: “We recognise that any delay in finalising their plans can create anxieties for young people and their families and we strive to always offer high quality provision that meets their needs locally.

“There has been increased pressure on places in our special schools as a result of the Transition Review and Education Health and Care needs assessment. This is something that is being experienced at a regional and national level.

“Our parents have recognised that our local schools offer high quality provision as have our neighbouring authorities. This has driven increased demand for places in Sunderland which has resulted in a delay in finalising Education and Health Care Plans for some of our families.

“By working closely with our special school partners, we have secured increased local capacity which will now enable us to finalise all plans by the start of the summer term.”