Kent County Council says action is being taken to improve care for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), following a highly critical letter from Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) and the CQC (Care Quality Commission).
The joint letter highlighted failings discovered during an inspection at the end of January this year,
Inspectors said children and young people with SEND in Kent experience unacceptable inequality when accessing services.
They added: “Children cannot access the same health services in all parts of Kent. Systems to assess and review children’s needs are weak. This has resulted in some parents securing additional support for their children using private assessments and the threat of legal proceedings. Other parents, who are unable to take such action, are frustrated by a system that appears not to care about their children.”
Inspectors said not all schools and settings are willing to accommodate children and young people with SEND. One parent explained that eight of the 10 schools she contacted to discuss her disabled son did not want to offer him a place.
The letter said parents are often not getting the support they need, often cannot understand the systems in place and were overwhelmingly negative about their experiences.
Kent County Council and the NHS are now working together on a joint strategy to improve care for children with SEND and regain the trust of parents.
‘We are sorry’
In a joint statement, Roger Gough, KCC’s Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Education, and Glenn Douglas, accountable officer for the eight Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in Kent and Medway, said: “We are sorry the relationship between our organisations and parents and carers has broken down, that some families have lost trust in SEND provision within Kent, and that their experience of our services has often not been as good as it should have been.
“The national picture is similar to that in Kent with the majority of local areas inspected since the 2014 reforms being required to produce, as we are, a written statement of action (WSoA). But even though there has been an enormous increase in demand for assessments and resources across the country, there are things we must do, and are doing, to improve the situation in Kent.
“Parent/carer forums, additional staff members, and the formation of the SEND Improvement Board are just a few examples of the actions that have already been taken.
“These are the first steps in a long process – there is a lot work to be done and a lot of trust to be rebuilt. But as local leaders, not only do we have a duty to put right those things which are in our control, but we want to put them right. We owe it to the children and young people with SEND in Kent, and their families, to provide the service they deserve, and we will continue to work tirelessly, with parents and our partners, until we achieve that.”
A SEND Improvement board, made up of KCC and NHS experts, has been established, an action plan is underway, additional support staff have been recruited to speed up the response time to parents, and four new parent/carer forums are expected to be running within a few months.
Action taken before the inspection included staff working with established parent charities and SEN managers attending weekly drop-in advice sessions, more support staff employed and more frequent opportunities for parents to provide feedback.
The detailed letter sent to KCC also identified a number of strengths, such as increased investment in provision for children with SEND since 2014.
KCC and the area NHS were required to produce a Written Statement of Action (WSoA) setting out how they will work together with schools and academy trusts to improve the outcome for children with SEND in Kent.
The WSoA must be submitted to the Department for Education (DfE) and NHS England by Friday, June 28. Those two organisations will respond by Friday, July 12 and any required revisions must be finalised by Friday, August 9. KCC and the NHS will then be subject to quarterly monitoring and a full re-inspection between 12 and 18 months after the WSoA has been approved.
Action since March:
Revised role for SEN provision evaluation officers (specialist SEN teachers) to quality assure Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and the delivery of inclusive practice within schools
Joint statutory assessment meetings for pre-school children being piloted to provide a child centred coordinated approach that ensures parents/carers are fully engaged in the creation of a plan that identifies their child’s needs and outcomes
SEN staff now attend care, education and treatment reviews (CETRs) meetings to ensure a more coordinated response with health and social care
Independent school placement panel of senior managers established to gatekeep decisions regarding out of county placements and ensure a more consistent approach
Development of a new Local Offer has started, which will include much greater parent/carer and CYP (child/young person) input
Development of a single team across Kent to oversee health services for children and young people, to share best practice and ensure consistent standards across the county