By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
An education boss says work is underway to make Kent’s special educational needs and disability (SEND) service “fit for purpose”.
Kent County Council (KCC) is launching a major redesign of the SEND service to improve the quality of care provided to children with special educational needs.
It comes as Kent parents continue to face delays in accessing vital support, such as educational health and care plans (EHCPs), which enable a child to go to a special school.
In May 2022, only 45% of EHCPs were delivered to parents within the legal timeframe of 20 weeks amid “unprecedented” demand.
Nearly 20,000 SEN children in Kent were registered with an ECHP in the same month – a 54% rise over the last three years.
Speaking at KCC’s education committee meeting this week (Jul 19), Mark Walker, KCC’s director of special educational needs and disabilities, said SEND demands remained “consistently high”.
He added: “We want to redesign SEND to make sure we have a service that is fit for purpose.”
Liberal Democrat county councillor Richard Streatfeild described the delays faced by parents as an “intractable” problem.
He later questioned what positive actions were being taken by the authority to move in the right direction.
In response, KCC education bosses said more staff would be recruited from September onwards, including permanent positions within the top tier management team.
Mr Walker said: “One of the main aims is to ensure every child with special educational needs has their support needs met.”
He added: “At the moment, the levels of demand are such that this is a real challenge for us, but, within the new structures, we aim to meet the current demand we are experiencing.”
Labour county councillor Alister Brady called on KCC to hire more speech and language therapists to help tutor young children and improve support packages to existing staff.
The Canterbury member said: “I think we understand happy employees feed into a good service.”
A total of 18,422 children and young people under the age of 25 were registered with an EHCP in Kent in May 2022.
This represents a 54% increase over the last three years, with 11,763 youngsters in 2019 and 15,281 in 2021.