The Leader of Kent County Council (KCC) and the Chief Nurse of the NHS in Kent and Medway have issued an apology after a critical report into how the local area – KCC, NHS Kent and Medway and local schools and other settings – provide support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in the county.
Following an inspection by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in 2019 nine areas of weakness were identified.
A written statement was submitted by KCC and NHS Kent and Medway as the accountable authorities which promised swift actions and that a new strategy would be implemented to improve support for children and young people with SEND and regain the trust of parents, carers and families.
However, a follow up visit by Ofsted and CQC in September 2022 found that the local area has ‘not made sufficient progress’ in addressing the weaknesses previously identified.
A letter from Ofsted following the visit says: “The area has not made sufficient progress in addressing any of the significant weaknesses identified at the initial inspection. As none of the significant weaknesses have improved, it is for DfE and NHS England to determine the next steps. This may include the Secretary of State using his powers of intervention. Ofsted and CQC will not carry out any further revisit unless directed to do so by the Secretary of State.”
Between 27 and 29 September inspectors spoke with children and young people with SEND, parents and carers, representatives from the parent/carer forum Parents and Carers Together (PACT), school leaders representing educational provision across the area and local authority and NHS staff.
They examined a range of information about the performance of the area in addressing the nine significant weaknesses identified during the initial 2019 inspection, including the area’s repositioning statement and self-evaluation.
The report found that the local area had not made sufficient progress in addressing the areas first identified in the 2019 report.
These areas are:
- A widely held concern of parents that the local area is not able, or in some cases not willing, to meet their children’s needs.
- A variable quality of provision and commitment to inclusion in schools, and the lack of willingness of some schools to accommodate children and young people with SEND.
- That parents and carers have a limited role in reviewing and designing services for children and young people with SEND.
- An inability of current joint commissioning arrangements to address known gaps and eliminate longstanding weaknesses in the services for children and young people with SEND.
- Poor standards achieved, and poor progress made, by too many children and young people with SEND.
- The inconsistent quality of the EHC process; a lack of up-to-date assessments and limited contributions from health and care professionals; and poor processes to check and review the quality of EHC plans.
- Weak governance of SEND arrangements across the EHC system at strategic and operational level and an absence of robust action plans to address known weaknesses.
- Unacceptable waiting times for children and young people to be seen by some health services, particularly CAMHS, tier two services, SALT, the wheelchair service, and ASD and ADHD assessment and review.
- A lack of effective systems to review and improve outcomes for those children and young people whose progress to date has been limited by weaknesses in provision.
Leader of KCC, Roger Gough, said “The report from Ofsted, received today, makes uncomfortable and hugely disappointing reading.
“We accept the findings and offer our heartfelt apologies to all the children and parents who we have let down and we are very sorry for the impact this has had on them.
“Since the last inspection three years ago, we have not made enough progress to the improvements that those who rely upon us deserve.
“We will look to the approaches that we have taken in Children’s Services, which led to that service being rated as Outstanding by Ofsted earlier this year. We now need to apply those strengths to our SEND provision, with children’s needs and rights at the centre of everything we do as we move forward.
“While there are a range of encouraging comments in the report about certain aspects of the service, it would not be right to dwell on them now, but they are nevertheless aspects that we can build on in the future.”
‘Listen to the voices of parents, carers and families’
Dame Eileen Sills, the recently appointed Chief Nurse of the NHS Kent and Medway Integrated Care Board, said: “We are truly sorry that the NHS continues to fail too many children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities in Kent.
“We can also understand the frustration and anger felt by parents, carers and families in Kent revealed by this report. Many of the stories are heart-breaking. It should not be so hard to get the help needed especially as we know the Covid pandemic has already put additional pressures on people’s mental health.
“Our staff have worked hard to make improvements and they are disappointed and frustrated that this hasn’t made it better for children and families.
“As a new organisation we promise we will listen to the voices of parents, carers and families and then take action, with our partners in Kent County Council and the voluntary and community sector, to make the necessary improvements so children with special educational needs and disabilities get the support from the NHS they need to thrive.”
Measures KCC and NHS Kent and Medway say they are immediately implementing:
- New leadership– A new Corporate Director for the Children, Young People and Education service. Sarah Hammond is now in post and has an excellent record as Director of Integrated Children’s Services, which this year has been judged by Ofsted as ‘outstanding’. Strong and collaborative leadership being undertaken within Kent’s schools, led by Christine McInnes, KCC’s Director of Education.
- Renewed commitment to focus on the child – KCC had already recognised deficiencies in some of its processes and instigated a redesign to the way the service operates so that children, young people and their families are more involved in the decisions made about their support, and that they receive more timely interventions. The authority needs to refocus the approach on children and specifically on the rights of the child, ensuring that they are provided with the education they need in a setting that is appropriate for each individual, preferably in their home community.
- Improved parent experience – KCC will strive to provide a better experience for parents when they contact the authority, with the creation of a central new SEND enquiries hub next year. A single phone number and email address will provide a streamlined contact process, allowing the team to answer questions and provide updates for parents and for schools and settings more efficiently. A current recruitment drive in SEND will see more permanent and experienced staff joining the team. A focus on experience of SEND either as a parent/carer or as a young person is key. KCC is also working on ways to provide more proactive communication both to parents who are requesting or have an assessment for an education, health and care plan (EHCP), and to those transferring to the next stage in their education. Jointly, KCC and NHS Kent and Medway will continue to work closely with Kent PACT, while also reaching out to other family forums to make sure they listen to as many parents and carers across Kent as possible.
- Strengthening SEND provision in mainstream schools – Every child has the right to be educated in their local community and be welcomed in mainstream settings where this is in their best interests, and KCC says it is building on the work already underway to support schools and settings to improve and build on their inclusive practice. This includes providing access to further training and development and supporting settings with techniques and resources they can use in class to be able to better support children and young people with SEND.