More educational psychologists for County Council following special needs rating

Sculptures by Robert Kiddey on County Hall in West Bridgford
By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter

More educational psychologists are being brought into Nottinghamshire County Council in a bid to improve its special needs services.

The authority and the local NHS were told to urgently address “widespread failings” in services for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities – known as SEND, earlier this year.

An inspection found people were waiting too long for specialist educational health care assessments (EHCs) and specialist help such as speech and language therapy.

The plans are for children and young people aged up to 25 who need more support than is available through regular special educational needs support.

At the time, Colin Pettigrew, Director of Children’s and Families Services at Nottinghamshire County Council, said “undoubtedly families have been let down”.

Now, the Conservative-run council says it will recruit more educational psychologists to” improve the timeliness of Education, Health and Care (EHC) Assessments”.

The council is planning to increase the number of educational psychologists by three new members of staff a year for the next three years, to reduce reliance on agency staff.

The council is currently spending around £400,000 a year on agency staff to fill the gaps in the service.

The authority says there is a national shortage of educational psychologists and the “demand pressures” it is experiencing are also felt by other local councils.

Educational psychologists provide advice for each EHC assessment which is carried out.

The cost of employing a qualified educational psychologist is around £58,000, depending on levels of experience.

“This will increase the establishment of the EPS service to better meet the level of demand and be more in line with comparator local authorities by the end of 2026”, council documents stated.

Council documents stated: “This work is required to be completed within timelines, with failure to meet these timelines risking reputational damage as well as opening up legal challenge and demands for compensation.

“The failure to carry out EHC Assessments in time has been identified as a serious weakness by the Area SEND Inspection.

“Since 2019 there has been a significant increase in the number of EHC Assessments which the Council has commissioned.

“The scale of and reasons for this increase are complex and difficult to predict.”

The authority is also planning to increase the number of trainee educational psychologist placements.

It will also implement a recruitment plan to support assistant educational psychologists with training courses.

In a recent county council meeting, opposition councillors said that the backlog in completing the EHC plans was getting “worse rather than better”.

It comes after the authority was slapped with a significant fine for the way an EHC plan was carried out following a watchdog complaint.

The council was told to pay a mother £7,700 following a lack of communication around her daughter’s EHCP between July 2021 and July 2023.

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