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Damning Ofsted SEND report criticises County Council Leadership

Chris Satori

Following a damning Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) inspection report by Ofsted, Lancashire County Council promises improvements to its SEND service. (Download the report here)

Inspectors found "There are two fundamental failings in Lancashire local area. Children, young  people and their families are not at the heart of the delivery of the SEND  reforms and leaders have failed to work together to deliver these reforms. As  a result, children’s and young people’s needs are not always being effectively  identified or met and many outcomes are not improving.

"The provision for children and young people who have SEN and/or disabilities  has not been a priority for elected members or leaders across health,  education and social care. The local authority has had to deal with significant  turbulence and unrest in leadership arrangements in past years. This, coupled  with an inadequate judgement for children’s services and reorganisational and financial challenges, have diverted leaders’ attention away from ensuring  the implementation of the Code of Practice."

Particular criticism was reserved for Autism Spectrum Disorder pathways 'where they exist', as failing to comply with NICE guidelines. It spoke of parents losing trust in the system and vulnerable young people being inadequately aware of how to keep themselves safe. 

They found the number of school exclusions to be at an unacceptable level and continuing to rise. They also found that there are not enough commissioned healthcare services for young people who have SEN and/or disabilities beyond the age of 16. Many parents who  took part in the inspection described the provision as ‘a chasm’. There appears to be a lack of support for these vulnerable children and their families across the board, and an inadequate effort to improve the life chances of young people as they move into adulthood.

They put this down to a crisis in leadership, some of which may be attributable to the ongoing OneConnect scandal, in relation to which Conservative Council Leader Geoff Driver is still out on police bail. Driver is alleged to have refused to meet with some council officers and to have pushed through staff changes that consolidate his position. (See Scandal-torn County to vote on New Chief Exec appointment).

Parents labelled 'rentamob'

The also spoke of a failure to engage effectively with parents and carers. Back in 2011 stunned parents of disabled children wept in desperation as Council Leader Geoff Driver dismissed them as 'rentamob', while leading his Conservative majority council into a vote to approve a 25% reduction in council spending, predominantly targeted at social care. Evidently the relationship has not substantially improved. 

But Ofsted also said the service, which is run jointly by Lancashire County Council and the areas' clinical commissioning groups (CCG's), had some positive aspects.

These included recognition that the culture and focus in Lancashire had begun to change in recent months and that professionals could see the benefits of finding joint solutions to common challenges.

The inspection was designed to judge how effectively the council and CCG's have implemented the disability and special educational needs reforms as set out in the Children and Families Act 2014.

Inspectors undertook a range of activity during the five day visit, from reviewing documentation, observing frontline practice and face to face meetings with a range of service users.

They also spoke to staff at all levels, to SEND service providers, to children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, their parents and carers, school governors, and leaders from the local area for health, social care and education.

New SEND Partnership board to include parents and young people

The Inspector demanded an action plan from the council to address its problems. The County Council have decided to establish a SEND partnership board, which includes representatives from parents and young people, sending a questionnaire to all families with children with an Education, Health and Care Plan asking for their views and experience in greater detail and arranging to meet with school leaders to deliver ways to reduce exclusions as a matter of urgency.

Lancashire County Council's Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Schools, Conservative County Councillor Susie Charles, said: "Children and families are at the heart of what we do and we are committed to giving all young people, whatever their background or needs, the best possible start in life.

"The inspectors' findings are of concern and we know that improvements must be made to ensure that the experience of children, young people and their families who access these vital services is a positive one.

"We have identified and started to implement a number of actions to address the issues found and staff are working hard to make changes.

"Since I became the responsible Cabinet Member following the County Council elections in May last year, I have taken this issue very seriously and whilst disappointed with some of the findings I am pleased that the inspectors acknowledged the emerging signs of improvement.

"They recognised that the culture and focus in Lancashire had begun to change in recent months and that professionals could see the benefits of finding joint solutions to common challenges.

"They also praised a number of areas of service delivery and practice, including the high attendance rates for children and young people who have SEN support and those who have an Education, Health and Care Plan or statement.

"A joint written statement of action by LCC and the areas' clinical commissioning groups will now be sent to Ofsted outlining what improvement will be made.

"And rest assured we will continue to work hard with schools, colleges, health providers and the voluntary sector to make sure there is a level playing field for all children and young people in Lancashire."

Hilary Fordham, chief operating officer at Morecambe Bay Care Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “We are obviously disappointed with the findings of the review, but the CCGs are committed to working with partners across health, social care and education and most importantly with young people and their families to address the issues raised in the report."