More than half of children in Bolton faced long waits for special educational needs support plans last year, new figures show.

An EHC plan is for children and young people who need more support than is available through conventional special educational needs support. EHC plans identify these needs and set out additional support required to meet them.

Department for Education figures show 557 children and young people aged up to 25 received an EHC plan from Bolton Council in 2023. This was up from the 324 plans issued the year before.

In Bolton, just 46 per cent of all support plans were provided within the time limit.

An EHC plan can only be issued after a child or young person has been formally assessed.

Across the country, 138,242 requests for initial assessments were made – 21 per cent more than in the year before. This included 716 in Bolton, with 55 of them refused by Bolton Council.

Overall, 3,304 Bolton children had an EHC plan as of January.

Rob Poole, Assistant District Secretary Bolton National Education Union said: “The figures showing long waits for EHC plans in Bolton are deeply concerning.

“More than half of our children facing delays in receiving essential support is unacceptable and affects their education and well-being.

“The increase in EHC plans, from 324 to 557, indicates a growing need, yet only 46 per cent were provided within the statutory time limit.

“This highlights systemic issues of underfunding and understaffing in our education system caused by over a decade of Tory austerity.

“The rise in initial assessment requests further emphasises the need for substantial investment in SEN provision.

“Our children are being let down, we need at least an extra £4.6 billion in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities funding to ensure that every child receives timely support to thrive.

“Since 2010 Bolton has lost over ten million pounds in education funding. It is crucial that the government and local authorities address these delays by allocating sufficient resources and ensuring our educators and support staff can meet all students' needs.

“It is dismaying to see that only one candidate in the upcoming election - Kev Alsop - has taken the pledge to stop school cuts. The National Education Union in Bolton will continue to push for these changes to create a more effective and fair education system.”

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A representative for Bolton Council, said: “Since January, Bolton has issued 59 per cent of EHC plans within the statutory 20-week timescale.

“This is ahead of the national average, according to the government’s latest figures, of 49.2 per cent.

“We have worked hard to achieve this since last year, when we issued 40 per cent of plans within 20 weeks.

“In fact, Bolton’s improved performance contrasts with the national picture, where the number of plans issued within 20 weeks has been falling.

“The background is that we have seen a significant increase in demand. When the SEND Code of Practice was introduced in 2015, Bolton maintained 1,364 statements. Today, Bolton maintains 3,529 EHC plans. This is an increase of 158.7 per cent.

“We pride ourselves on being open and transparent and we have a long-standing and positive relationship with the Bolton Parent Carers Forum, working collaboratively towards the best possible outcomes for our children and young people.”

Across England, the number of new education, health and care (EHC) plans rose by more than a quarter, but nearly half of all children and young people receiving one experienced prolonged waits before getting it.

The Association of School and College Leaders said failure to match the rising demand with appropriate government investment has brought the special education needs (Send) system “to the brink of collapse”.

Nationally, 84,428 new EHC plans started during last year, up by 27 per cent from 2022.

However, the figures show just 50 per cent of them were issued within the 20-week time limit – a slight improvement from 49 per cent in 2022.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The number of children needing additional support through education and healthcare plans is now at a record high, but many families are still waiting too long for the assessments, and provision that they need.”

He added: “The current system is simply not sustainable.

“The next government must tackle the Send crisis as a priority.”

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the ASCL, said: “Failure to match rising demand with appropriate government investment has brought the whole Send system to the brink of collapse, with schools being unable to afford the costs of Send provision, a lack of places available in special schools, and local authorities having huge high needs deficits.”

Louise Gittins, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “These record figures are a reminder of the huge pressure councils are under, with the number of EHCPs increasing every year since they were introduced in 2014.

“It is absolutely vital whoever forms the next government brings forward proposals without delay to reform the Send system, with a focus on improving levels of mainstream inclusion, as well as write off councils’ high needs deficits.”

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