DEVON County Council (DCC) are urgently working to improve the timeliness and quality of their Education Health and Care (EHC) processes, and how they communicate with parents, carers and young people. 

This is part of the council's whole system transformation of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) services in the Devon area. 

The aim of this EHC ‘deep dive’ is to so the council meet its statutory responsibilities and make it easier for parents, carers, young people and professionals to agree on the additional support someone with SEND needs to thrive in education.

An EHC plan is for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more support than is available through the regular special educational needs support (known as SEN Support) at a school or college. 

EHC plans identify educational, health and social needs, and set out the provision needed to meet those needs, which is over and above what is already available in schools or settings.

There is a year-on-year increase in requests for EHC plans in Devon, reflecting a national trend.

There are over 108,500 pupils in schools across Devon. Over 16,000 of these children and young people have special educational needs that are met through SEN Support by their school or college. A further 8,400 children and young people in Devon have an EHC plan to identify their additional needs.

However, Devon’s timeliness on issuing and reviewing EHC plans is below the national average and the quality of the plans – and how we communicate with families at every stage – has been identified as an area of weakness. Devon is now committed to improving this at a much faster pace, and focussing on changes that parents will see as part of their day-to-day experiences.

Changes already underway have improved how quickly Devon County Council decide whether a child should have an EHC needs assessment – the first step in the process. In October 2023 98 per cent of these decisions were made within the six-week timeframe.

If the needs assessment recommends an EHC plan, the council has 20 weeks from that decision date to agree the EHC plan with the child or young person, their parents/carers, education, health and care professionals. Since August 2023, no child in Devon has been waiting more than a year for their EHC plan to be issued. The national average for meeting the 20-week timeliness target is around 50%, but Devon is below this.

ECH plans must also be reviewed within 12 months of being issued, and each year after that until the child or young person no longer requires additional support in their education. As of October, Devon has almost halved the number of overdue EHC plan reviews. The percentage of annual reviews completed on time has increased from 37% in 2021 to 62% in 2023.

To increase the pace of improvement, our transformation specialists have been brought in to look at the end-to-end process, and are involving parents, carers and young people throughout. 

The review is looking at every step, from the first request for an assessment through to when a young person no longer needs our support in their education. 

The review covers the decision on whether a plan is needed, how a plan is then agreed and how it is reviewed every year. It also includes the mediation process if families and services cannot agree on how to meet a child or young person’s needs. The aim is to make services work with families more efficiently, more respectfully and more compassionately.

The team have already started information gathering, centring the families’ voice to inform where changes will make the most immediate difference. Over 900 parents and carers have taken part in a survey about their experience of the EHC process, with a further 100 volunteering to take part in one-to-one interviews or workshops.

The team are working with young people, through the youth participation team, to understand more about their experiences. This insight will be added to the crucial insight provided by the Parent Carer Forum Devon, the Devon Information and Advice Service (DIAS) and staff in the SEN statutory team (also known as the 0-25 team).

The aim of the work is to balance short term, high impact improvements with longer term redesign, so the entire process better meets children and young people’s needs. This means changes will be incremental as the team find and remove steps that do not add value but instead make the process slow and difficult. As changes are made, their impact will be checked, and additional tweaks made as needed.

The council are also looking at the quality of the EHC plans by creating a new quality assurance framework, and have appointed an improvement partner to help them in this area.

Councillor Lois Samuel, Cabinet member for SEND improvement at Devon County Council, said: 'I want to thank the hundreds of parent carers who responded to our callout for their views, and especially those who have volunteered their time for workshops and interviews. You’ve helped us identify what changes would make a meaningful difference.

'We are targeting outstanding EHC plans and annual reviews, with the aim of meeting our timeliness targets, but we’re also looking at the whole process. We want to make proper, meaningful changes that are noticeable. Ultimately, we want everyone to have a better experience at each stage of the EHC process.'