DORSET has performed better than most other authorities with education and health plans for children with additional needs.

Around 80 per cent are having their plans completed on time, despite Covid restrictions, compared to the national average of 58 per cent.

Councillors heard that the pandemic had mixed results for the youngsters – some becoming more anxious and attending school less frequently, with others taking to home-learning and finding it easier than face to face teaching.

The people and health scrutiny committee heard that staff had coped with the pandemic changes – despite having to deal with more than 300 pieces of guidance and policy change from the government during the year.

Councillors were told that requests for education, health and care assessments, continued to be made at the same rate as they had been prior to the pandemic.

A total of 598 requests were received of which 463 were taken forward for a EHC needs assessments. Many of these were completed online although staff often had to undertake some face to face.

Of the 463 assessments 446 led to an Education Health and Care Plan of which 79% on average (for the 2020 calendar year) were completed within the statutory 20-week time limit.

An agreed care plan effectively unlocks finance for additional care and support either at school or at home.

The committee was told that throughout the year extra support has been made available to children with additional needs and their parents and carers, including psychological help. A programme of activities was also arranged during the summer with more than 5,000 vulnerable children and young people sent a pass and encouraged to take part.

Said principal educational psychologist Miriam Leigh: “We do not yet know the full extent of the impact of Covid-19 on our children, young people and families, but together as a partnership we will make sure we are able to respond effectively and continue to support our most vulnerable children both through the pandemic and also as services increasingly move to educational recovery activities.”

Executive director of children’s services, Theresa Leavy, told councillors that some projections of the effects of the pandemic on children and young people were “alarming” but said Dorset had generally coped well and the council and schools were planning for a ‘strong start’ to the school year in September.

“The whole system has been under pressure nationally and locally,” she said.