£2 million boost for special education provision in Essex

Around £2 million extra is set to be spent on special needs (SEND) provision in order to meet a significant increased need in Essex – until the current “not fit for purpose” system is replaced.

The extension to the contract with Provide CIC to provide speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy, is to run for a further 17 months from April 1 to August 31, 2021, with a total anticipated cost of £2 million.

The extra money will mitigate the increase in children with education, health and care plans (EHCP).

The numbers cared for under the contract – currently 14 per cent of the total number of EHCPs issued by Essex County Council (ECC) – is expected to increase from 7,723 in 2017 to 11,600 in 2022.

That’s an increase of 50 per cent.

The number of therapy hours provided is expected to increase from 12,631 in 2017 to 29,580 in 2022 – an increase of 134 per cent.

With the huge increase comes extra demand for funding, ECC has said, until at least a new system for providing SEND is in place in summer 2021.

ECC has admitted the delivery of its SEND provision is “not fit for purpose”.

“It is fragmented, with access and pathway dictated by postcode. Demand outweighs capacity across the county. There is not enough capacity or resource to deliver consistent training to schools and early years settings on a countywide footing,” a report has concluded.

This has resulted in duplication of costs, recruitment and resourcing issues and ultimately problems and gaps in the delivery of the services and outcomes for children and young people in Essex.

Instead a joint pathway for the delivery of a therapy service that ensures that children receive the appropriate therapeutic support and intervention in the right setting at the right time, delivered by the most  SEND-integrated therapy service appropriate member of the workforce, is being developed, and is expected to be in place for summer term 2021.

The extra demand being placed on providers in the meantime is creating its own financial pressures. The ongoing increase in demand has in effect reduced the original tendered hourly rate by 42 per cent.

The current contract with Provide CIC initially commissioned 12,631 hours of support for 870 individual pupils and whole school support for six enhanced provisions set within mainstream schools and five special schools.

But over the last two years demand has increased, and the service now supports around 1,251 pupils with 18,760 hours of direct therapy.

In addition 1,428 hours were purchased at the same rate for assessment, report writing and expert witness support for ECC.

This growth represents a 29 per cent increase in pupil numbers and a 46 per cent increase in the number of hours from the commencement of the contract on April 1, 2017.

As a result, it is anticipated that the spend for the proposed extension period will need to increase to approximately £2 million to maintain the sustainability of the service.

A statement to cabinet said: “The preferred option is to extend the contract with the current supplier by 17 months from April 1, 2020, to August 31, 2021.

“The likely cost of £2 million which compared to current cost is an increase of £400,000. However, this is within the resources identified in the Medium Term Resource Strategy for 2020/21 to 2021/22.

“Upon cessation of the extended contract a new model of provision aimed at earlier intervention will be introduced from September 2021 aligned across all partners across Essex.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter