A plan detailing the changes needed for Kent County Council (KCC) to rapidly improve support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), has been agreed by the Department for Education (DfE) and NHS England.
The Accelerated Progress Plan (APP), by KCC and NHS Kent and Medway, pledges to work with partners – including schools and education settings- to tackle the nine areas of significant weakness outlined in an Ofsted inspection revisit in 2022 and to build long-term improvements to SEND services.
An inspection by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in 2019 identified nine areas of weakness.
A follow up visit by Ofsted and CQC in September 2022 found that the organisations had ‘not made sufficient progress’ in addressing the weaknesses.
The 9 areas were:
- 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.
The DfE and NHS England will provide independent assurance for the new improvement plan and its implementation through regular meetings with KCC and NHS Kent and Medway.
The first review will take place towards the end of this year, where the DfE and NHS England will assess the evidence provided to check the actions put in place are having a positive impact for children, young people and their families.
Rory Love, KCC Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: “We have an absolute focus on making long-term, sustainable changes for the benefit of all children and young people with SEND and these changes have been shaped by their views and experiences, and those of their families.
“A lot of work is already underway. During the past seven months we have restructured our teams to give more focus to customer service.
“We have recruited permanent staff, reducing vacancies so far from 100 down to 20. We have been learning from other councils to understand how they provide their services successfully.
“I am determined that we deliver the actions in our improvement plan to provide the quality services children, young people and their families have a right to expect from us.
“Their views and experiences will continue to shape our improvements and they will be the judge of how we are doing in the months ahead as the impact of these improvements start to make a difference.”
Jane O’Rourke, Director of Children’s Services at NHS Kent and Medway said: “Making these improvements and getting this right for children and their families in Kent is paramount.
“We are committed to working in partnership with our council colleagues, the children and their families to deliver the necessary improvements.
“We are working together to reduce waiting times and make sure that every child with a special educational need and/or a disability, and their family has access to the health care, services and support they need.”
The following key points are covered in the Accelerated Progress Plan:
- The issue with the timeliness of education, health and care (EHC) plans is being addressed by reducing the backlog of complaints, annual reviews and requests for EHCPs by continuing to fill the remaining vacancies in our SEN and educational psychology teams and bringing in extra staff.
- The variable quality of provision, and the lack of willingness of some schools to accommodate children with SEND are being tackled with a core training offer to improve schools’ knowledge of the different types of support available for pupils with SEND and those with different needs such as autism and social and emotional mental health issues.
- The observation that parents and carers have had a limited role in reviewing and designing services for children with SEND will be approached by working with Kent PACT (Parents and Carers Together) and with other groups to make sure parents/carers have a voice at all levels of decision-making and the design of services and processes.
- Poor processes to review the quality of EHC plans is being addressed and we will make sure the views and aspirations of children and young people are taken on board through further training and guidance to staff.
- Weak governance of SEND arrangements is being addressed by new leadership and continued improvements overseen by a Strategic Improvement and Assurance Board chaired by an independent SEND expert and assured by the Department for Education and NHS England, with input from KCC, the NHS, the education sector and parents and young people.
- Unacceptable waiting times for children and young people to be seen by some health services, particularly speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), and Attention-deficit/hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) assessment will be tackled in several ways, including:
- managing waiting lists for children and young people who are neurodiverse or are waiting for specialist equipment such as wheelchairs, making sure parents have information on where to get support during the wait;
- improving and increasing access to speech and language therapies across Kent;
- making changes to the way we work so that children and young people with ADHD can access services that meet guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE); and
- providing better information for families about emotional wellbeing and mental health.
Details of the full Accelerated Progress Plan are on the KCC website – www.kent.gov.uk/sendimprovementplan