Scathing report says special educational needs is not improving quickly enough
PUBLISHED: 14:16 04 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:58 05 March 2019
The NHS and Whitehall are set to decide the next steps for Suffolk’s ailing special educational needs provision, following a latest scathing inspection by health and education watchdogs.
Ofsted and the Care Quality Commissioning carried out a joint visit to Suffolk County Council’s special educational needs and disability (SEND) service in January to inspect a series of weaknesses identified in January 2017.
SEND chiefs had been hopeful the re-inspection would deliver a better report, but the results published today have revealed that the team has “not made sufficient progress” in three of the four areas identified.
The report said that all the partners did not co-ordinate effectively and the improvement strategy “does not have sufficiently detailed information about outcomes to help members challenge and evaluate rigorously the impact of the local area’s work”.
It continued that completing statutory assessments on time was “too slow for too many”, and that the new education health and care plans (EHC plans) were “inconsistent”.
The report revealed that the county faced such a huge backlog it was required to triple the rate it completed them, and only completed them seven months after its March 2018 deadline.
Another priority for improvement was improving the ‘local offer’ information – the database of all education services available in Suffolk for parents to understand their options.
The latest inspection findings said that there had been improvements but the pace of progress had been “too slow”.
The report did however recognise that measures to address serious weakness in governance and leadership were bearing fruit, highlighting a reduction in school exclusions and more specialist places being created as key elements.
Councillor Gordon Jones, SCC’s cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, said: “The report highlights that there are still major improvements to be made and that we must increase the pace of change. “The findings of the inspection steer us to how we need to do more to ensure that all Suffolk’s children and young people benefit from a more joined up and consistent system of support that is clearly communicated to them. “Many of Suffolk’s services are working well to support the county’s children and young people with SEND, but much more needs to be done to ensure they are able to achieve their full potential regardless of the challenges they may face.”
With the council failing to meet all of the progress areas identified, the Department for Education and NHS England will now be required to decide the next steps, which could include the powers of intervention by the education secretary.
A spokesman from the Suffolk Parent Carer Network, which works with parents and carers, said: “Whilst we have been involved in an enormous amount of work since the inspection, this report confirms what we already knew, that is the work has not yet been felt by families as some of the big changes have not yet started.
“There has not been sufficient priority given to changes which would immediately make a difference to families.
“This means it is often the case that children, young people and families are still unable to access the services and support that they need and the system continues to make things harder than they need to be, resulting in families being driven to crisis point.
“The lack of communication with families from services has remained a constant frustration for SPCN and, as a result, we have now agreed with Suffolk County Council and the clinical commissioning groups that we will communicate key messages to our families from the main strategic meetings we attend.”
Dr Ed Garratt, chief officer of the NHS Ipswich & East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, said the latest report made for “a difficult read”. He said: “An enormous amount of work has taken place across our organisations since the original inspection in 2016. “It was pleasing the inspectors noted that there has been progress, particularly in how the system is working together and how co-production is well established and effective. “However, I’m under no illusion that we still have a way to go before we can be satisfied that children and young people with SEND are receiving the services they deserve. “None of us will be satisfied until their parents and carers start telling us the changes we’ve introduced have made a real difference to their children’s lives.” Melanie Craig, chief officer with NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group, said it was a “fair reflection” of progress to date and there was “clearly more work to be done”.