Nottingham City Council has announced plans to recruit two full-time equivalent main-grade Educational Psychologists (EPs) to meet the increased statutory demand for Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessments.
The delegated decision, which carries a full-year cost of £142,138, is a response to the Council’s statutory legal duty under the Children and Families Act 2015 to identify, assess, and make provision to meet the needs and improve outcomes for young people aged 0-25 with Special Educational Needs (SEND).
The City Council has noted a significant increase in demand for EHC statutory assessments, with a rise of over 100% since 2015. Despite efforts to streamline EHC assessment processes and reduce the service offer in certain areas, the Council has struggled to meet this demand due to a national shortage of EPs.
This shortage is particularly acute in the East Midlands area, and while the Department for Education (DfE) has acknowledged the issue and proposed measures to reduce the shortfall, it will be several years before the Council sees an improvement in the ability to recruit and retain EPs.
The Council’s decision to recruit more EPs is crucial to its ability to complete the majority of statutory assessments within the 20-week timeline.
If recruitment proves impossible, the Council will need to employ external Locum and/or Associate EPs temporarily, via a procurement framework.
The commissioning of Locum EPs is currently being addressed through work with the Procurement Team to develop an appropriate framework.
The lack of EP capacity has led to a drop in the Council’s performance in meeting the 20-week statutory timeline for completing EHC Plans.
Over the last 10 years, performance has always been maintained at 97% or above, but due to the lack of EP capacity, this has dropped to 66% and is predicted to continue to fall without investment in capacity for the EP service.
The decision to recruit more EPs is seen as a necessary step to ensure that young people’s additional needs are identified and assessed in a timely manner.
Failure to do so not only risks the outcomes and wellbeing of young people but also increases the risk of increased DfE monitoring of the Council’s performance and a risk of a written statement of action through the next SEND inspection by OFSTED and the Care Quality Commission.
The decision to recruit more EPs has been supported by both finance and HR departments, with funding for the posts secured via the budget rebasing project completed by PwC.
The Council is aware of the need to ensure that this budget is continued in the forthcoming MTFP to ensure the numbers of staff in EP is held steady. HR has also provided advice on the recruitment process, the need for a support and development plan for the new post-holders, and the potential need for redundancy consultations if the posts need to be deleted once the funding has stopped.