Independent Review Findings Published

Herts County Hall

An independent review has found that Hertfordshire County Council is delivering improvements to its Education Health Care Needs Assessment (EHCNA) process and that there is no deliberate policy to apply too high a threshold in determining whether to carry out an EHCNA.

As it publishes the final report and recognises that the progress made in the service is not yet being consistently felt by all families, the council wants to re-affirm its commitment to delivering its improvement plan.

Leon Glenister, a nationally recognised expert in this field and leading barrister in Education and Special Educational Needs law, conducted the independent review to scrutinise the operation and effectiveness of the EHCNA process. This followed a judicial review claim regarding delays relating to an EHCNA.

The review was commissioned in April 2024 and complements both the SEND Improvement Plan put in place after an Ofsted / CQC inspection late last year, and investment into the delivery of the council’s statutory SEND duties prior to this inspection.

Mr Glenister looked at three areas in particular:

  1. The initial decision whether or not to assess a child or young person,
  2. Appeals against refusals to assess, concessions in refusal to assess appeals,
  3. The subsequent completion of the EHC Needs Assessment (EHCNA).

During the review, he engaged with parents, representatives from the parent/carer forum Herts Parent Carer Involvement (HCPI), Hertfordshire County Council employees and leaders, NHS leaders and managers, a SENCo, a volunteer at ‘SOS!SEN’, a member of ‘SEND National Crisis Hertfordshire’ and Dame Christine Lenehan (chair of the Hertfordshire SEND Priority Executive), to ensure a comprehensive range of perspectives were heard. He reviewed data relating to assessment rates, examined the council’s training material and considered the findings of a number of parent surveys.

The final report found the county council to be working transparently and delivering improvements.  Other key findings included:

  • ‘There is significant cause for optimism’ in relation to improvements being made to the EHCNA process, driven by increased investment, and ‘the infrastructure is now in a good position to maintain the improvement seen thus far at a good pace’.
  • There is no deliberate policy to apply too high a threshold in determining whether to carry out an EHCNA
  • Historic delays determining whether to assess were due to the capacity in the system, and that ‘the lack of capacity has led to failures in communication’.
  • The leadership of SEND services within the council have ‘never sought to challenge parental views on what is going wrong, rather they have sought to identify solutions.’ They have been ‘transparent about flaws identified’ and are ‘focussed on delivering improvements.’

As part of the review, Mr Glenister has made a number of recommendations to further improve process, practice and communication which the council welcomes to support its SEND improvement journey. It has set out actions it will take to address these recommendations on the council website.

In his concluding remarks, he said: ‘As an independent observer I have come away from this review with an overall positive view of the direction of travel. The Council as a whole has identified the issues in the EHCNA process and made significant financial investment to enable the leaders who deal with the process to make improvements.’

Commenting on the findings of the Independent Review, Scott Crudgington, Interim Chief Executive at Hertfordshire County Council, said: ‘We value this independent review of our processes and practices in relation to the decisions we make during EHC needs assessments and we hope families will feel reassured that early improvements are being seen.

‘We recognise that it will take time for families to experience a consistent improvement in our service and we’ve got work to do to re-build trust with them.

‘We would like to thank parents and carers who provided feedback to inform the review and we will continue to work and communicate regularly with our parent community.’

Dame Christine Lenehan, Independent Chair of the SEND priority executive (the Hertfordshire SEND partnership’s multi-agency improvement board) commented: ‘I would like to thank Mr Glenister for this excellent report which shows the progress Hertfordshire are making and the recommendations which will further improve the service offered to families. This marks an important step on the improvement journey.’