TRAFFORD Council has admitted that it outsourced educational plans for children with special needs to a private company for eight years without parents’ knowledge or consent.

Last month, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Trafford Council revealed that, since November 2014, 961 Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) had been completed by Essex-based company Enhance EHC Ltd.

These plans are vital for families who have children with special educational needs as they set out the support that they should be provided with.

Outsourced plans completed since November 2014 came at a cost of £86,490 to the council. It was also revealed that between 2008 and 2014, Trafford Council spent more than £200,000 on statement writing for children with special educational needs (SEN) by private providers.

Trafford Labour raised questions over whether parents had been informed that information about their children was being shared with a private firm 200 miles away.

This formed the basis of a new FOI submitted to the council, the results of which have recently been published.

The council was questioned as to whether data protection protocols were in place in relation to outsourced statement writing and later, EHCP writing (since 2008).

The answer was no. The FOI stated: “The company (Enhance EHC Limited (previously known as IndePenDent Business Services) employ over 50 highly skilled writers each undertaking a thorough training process. Each writer is overseen primarily by one of Enhance’s SEN document officers or by a premium writer often with over 10 years’ experience.

“All of the writers have to sign a confidentiality agreement agreeing to abide the requirements laid out in the company’s data management policy. The data management policy covers all relevant legislation outlining staff working practices.

“All staff are enhanced disclosure and barring service checked before they start at the company. They receive annual training in data protection, child protection and safeguarding matters.”

The council said that, in the past twelve months, the company has “completely updated” their data systems to ensure that they treat confidential information with the “requisite care”.

The reply stated: “The council is assured that Enhance EHC Limited’s work across many local authorities, over a sustained period of time together with their training in relation to the people who work for them and the systems that they use clearly evidences a strong commitment to data protection protocols and principles.”

The FOI also queried whether parents and carers of the SEN children involved in the process were aware the work was being outsourced and that their children’s information was being handled by private firms since 2008.

The council revealed that, prior to January 2016, parental permission was not obtained to share children’s information with the private company.

EHC writing became an in-house service after the establishment of a dedicated team, and the majority of plans were completed up by the external company until June last year.

Leader of Trafford Labour, Cllr Andrew Western said: "It really is concerning that the council chose to pass on personal information about these children without parental consent or even, it seems, knowledge.

“I am appalled that this practice was going on for eight years and nobody seems to be taking responsibility. The Tories should be apologising to the families of all those whose data was shared without permission; instead of which they have spent the past 12 months trying to sweep these issues under the carpet. This is totally unacceptable."

When asked for a comment, Trafford Council reiterated points raised in their previous statement regards to the first EHC plans FOI.

A spokesperson for Trafford Council said: “Trafford Council achieves the highest standards of education for all children and places good outcomes for young people at the heart of its services. It is not alone amongst Local Authorities in securing external support from time to time to assist in writing up EHC plans which contain the outcomes that parents had agreed.

“As Councillor Western is aware the council has answered repeated questions on this subject.”