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We are very worried about changes to the law on support for children with special educational needs during the coronavirus crisis, and the impact this will have on autistic children with the greatest needs.

Changes to the law announced this week by the Secretary of State for Education say that councils no longer have a legal duty to provide exactly what is set out in a child’s education, health and care (EHC) plan, but instead only have to use ‘reasonable endeavours’ to provide what the child needs. This change will last for a month initially, although it may be renewed a number of times.

The Government has published guidance for councils on how to implement the changes. But we believed that it isn’t clear enough in this guidance what is meant by ‘reasonable endeavours’, and what councils are expected to do.

We know that a number of councils have already been wrongly telling parents of autistic children – before this change in the law was introduced – that they do not have to provide everything a child’s EHC plan says at this time.

The Department for Education has also temporarily ‘relaxed’ the timescales for councils to carry out EHC needs assessments and produce EHC plans. From 1 May until 25 September 2020, councils will have to complete these processes ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’, rather than within a specific time period.

This will be really worrying for families who are waiting for their child’s needs to be assessed, and for children who are struggling without the support they need while they wait. We know from families who contact our Education Rights Service that children already often have to wait longer – sometimes many months longer – than the deadlines set out in the Children and Families Act 2014 and the SEND Code of Practice. Relaxing the deadlines means that they will have to wait even longer.

Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs the National Autistic Society, said: “Even though these changes to the law on education for children with special needs are temporary, thousands of them will feel the effects for a long time.

"The new, lower expectations of local councils mean that many children will lose the right education, speech, occupational and physiotherapy support. This will have long-term consequences for their development.

“Families up and down the country are feeling isolated and ignored, while children are struggling with the loss of their usual school routine and other services. We urge the Government to provide funding so that councils can continue to give the vital support that many children desperately need.”

What we’re doing

We are committed to showing the Government the impact this has on autistic children and their families. We will keep speaking up so that people have their rights protected during this time. Please share your experiences with us, by emailing stories@nas.org.uk

If you need help with an education issue

Our Education Rights Service provides impartial and confidential information and support to families on school education rights and entitlements.

Further information

We have information, guidance and tips about coronavirus to help you during this difficult time.