The “damning” Ofsted report into failings in Hertfordshire County Council’s services for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) was the subject of discussion by MPs last week.

Daisy Cooper, MP for St Albans, secured a debate on the report in Westminster Hall on Wednesday, December 6.

The Ofsted report noted HCC’s poor communication with families, lengthy delays in preparing education, health and care plans (EHCPs) for children, the poor quality of EHCPs when they are produced, and failures to put in place measures included within EHCPs.

Council leader Richard Roberts has vowed to turn around the services as quickly as possible.

But Ms Cooper said that the report “did not come as a surprise” given the “scores of constituents” who have contacted her about their experiences with Hertfordshire’s SEND services.

She said that many of those constituents have “reached breaking point”, and that her casework team spend around a third of their time on SEND issues.

Describing the “heartbreak and human cost” of the failings, Ms Cooper mentioned one case where a parent was unable to work – therefore risking losing their job and home – because their two children with SEND had been excluded and put on a reduced timetable.

There was a lack of communication from HCC, and no sign of special school places any time soon. Ms Cooper held an urgent meeting with HCC officials about the case in December 2022 yet, one year on, one of the children is still waiting for provision.

Ms Cooper said that this was not an isolated case, and noted that “families have been forced to fight every step of the way to get an EHCP, and even then many have to progress their child’s case to formal routes such as tribunals”.

She described Hertfordshire’s SEND services as being in “chaos and confusion”, and added that “the service is in such a state of meltdown that they simply cannot distinguish between emergencies and non-urgent inquiries".

Ms Cooper believes that the crisis has been caused by a lack of money. She blames the “flawed” national funding formula, which is based on spend in 2017 and “not current need”.

Funding per head in Hertfordshire is lower than in counties such as Buckinghamshire.

The MP for St Albans added that in 2017 HCC had diverted £2.2m of high needs SEN funding from regular spending into a one-off investment in new special school places, and had “inexcusably” returned £3.7m of their allocation from central government because “it was not given enough time to allocate it in that  financial year”

 In total, £5.9m was excluded from the baseline figure that has been used in the funding formula.

Ms Cooper asked the government to “immediately release” the additional £2m in yearly funding that would have been granted to HCC had the £5.9m of 2017 funding not been excluded from calculations.

She also asked them to “fix the absurd funding formula that puts children in Hertfordshire at a permanent disadvantage”.

David Johnston, minister for children, families and wellbeing, responded that improving SEN services is a “priority” for the government, and that he was “very disappointed” to learn about the “serious” issues raised by Ofsted.

He said that officials from the Department for Education will meet HCC leaders this week to scrutinise their improvement plan, and believes that the appointment of Dame Christine Lenehan as the independent chair of the improvement board “will push the local authority to take the actions that it should take and move it in the right direction”.

Mr Johnston also said that he was happy for officials to discuss the issue of the baseline figure with HCC, and that the government has allocated almost £27m for high needs provision in Hertfordshire that could be used “to deliver new places in mainstream and special schools”.

A spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said: “We are sorry for the delays to support and services being experienced by children, young people and their families with SEND in Hertfordshire and we are taking urgent action to address the concerns raised in the report.

“It is widely recognised that the demand and expectation for SEND provision far outweigh the funding and capacity in the system, not just in Hertfordshire but across the UK.

"We welcome the Westminster debate which highlights the issues facing the sector, and those specific to Hertfordshire.

“We have consistently set out the need for additional and equitable funding for Hertfordshire’s children and young people, and we will continue to campaign on their behalf.”