The Department for Education has published new guidance on EHC needs assessments and plans following temporary changes to legislation. It is hoped the change will give local authorities, health commissioning bodies, education settings and other bodies who contribute to these processes more flexibility in responding to the demands placed on them by coronavirus. The changes mean that the duty on local authorities or health commissioning bodies to secure or arrange special education provision and health care provision in accordance with EHC plan is temporarily modified to a duty to use ‘reasonable endeavours’ to do so. Timescales set out in legislation principally for various processes relating to EHC needs assessments and plans have also been amended. Under the new guidance, where it is not reasonably practicable or is impractical to meet that time limit for a reason relating to the incidence or transmission of coronavirus, the specific time limit in the regulations being amended will not apply. Instead, the local authority or other body to whom that time limit applies will have to complete the process as soon as reasonably practicable or in line with any other timing requirement in any of the regulations being amended.
Addressing these changes, the Minister for Care, Helen Whately MP and the Minister for Children and Families, Vicky Ford MP have published a joint letter to all children and young people with SEND, their parents/ carers and families and others who support them. The letter states the pandemic has been “particularly hard for those children and young people with complex health needs, learning disabilities, autism and behaviour that challenges, and their families” but that “supporting the most vulnerable children, young people and adults is a priority for us at this time”. The letter stresses that “these changes are temporary and all other requirements of the EHC process remains unchanged” instead, “the changes are designed to balance the needs of children and young people with the ability of local authorities and health services to respond to the outbreak”.
The full guidance can be found here.