Inspectors demand action after critical SEND inspection Image By alexlmx AdobeStock_106157843
The Children and Families Act 2014 is a wide-ranging act designed to reform services for vulnerable children. It gives them greater protection, and pays special attention to those with additional needs. It also sets out to help parents and the family as a whole.

Since 2016, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have conducted joint inspections to see how local areas are fulfilling their Children and Families Act 2014 responsibilities for children and young people with special educational needs (SEND) and/or disabilities.

These inspections look at how education, social care and health services work together to identify children and young people who have SEND and/or a disability, and how well the services assess and meet the needs of the children/young people.

Central Bedfordshire had its first SEND inspection in November 2019 and the result (published in February 2020) was that a Written Statement of Action was required because of significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice.

Both Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) and Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (BCCG) were responsible for submitting the written statement to Ofsted.

Petition called for the dismissal of the executive and deputy executive members for Children’s Services

Central Bedfordshire parents with SEND children say that families have been fighting for a suitable education for their children long before the inspection.

Adding that they believed CBC’s executive councillors turned a blind eye to the crisis, reported nothing but good news, and failed to adequately respond to scrutiny from other councillors.

A petition (signed by 321 people) calling for the dismissal of the executive and deputy executive members for Children’s Services with immediate effect was presented to CBC’s Executive Meeting on 13 October 2020.

Cllr Sue Clark, executive member for Families, Education and Children responded to the petition, she said:

“We are genuinely sorry that we have some families that have been let down by our service.

“We are employing more educational psychologists and this means reports will be written more quickly and more importantly we will have the capacity to respond to families earlier and to provide a much more robust early help offer for children with SEND so they can access support more easily and more quickly once we have established what help is needed.

“Our service is not in crisis. We know that we have some areas that we need to work on. We have a plan and together with our NHS partners we are working hard to deliver a lasting improvement right across the system.

“This culture change will take time and we are committing sufficient resources to make sure we can deliver on these changes.”

What does ‘more quickly’ mean?

Cllr Clark’s response didn’t go into details, so the Chronicle asked CBC:

  • How quickly will the reports be written?
  • How would this compare to before the Ofsted report?
  • How earlier will SEND parents be responded to?
  • How robust will the early help offer (and who decided that it is more robust) and how will this compare to the previous early offers?

A CBC spokesperson said:

“We are working extremely hard to improve the SEND service and we are investing in more staff to make this possible. This will give us greater capacity to deal with report writing and responding to parents in a timely manner.

“By investing and providing more training for our SEND professionals, we’ll be able to provide an improved early help service. We have outlined our plans for improvement in our Written Statement of Action which has been approved by Ofsted, and they will ultimately decide if our improvements are robust enough.”

This response replaced ‘more quickly’ and ‘earlier’ with ‘a timely manner’. A comparative statement, which did not share the time periods that are being compared, had been replaced with a euphemistic phrase which basically means to do something as quickly as possible.

CBC was asked why is it is keen to say that it is working to improve things, while at the same time it will not give a brief statement with specifics that can be tracked and measured by residents to see if it is meeting its targets. Its spokesperson said:

“We have a statutory duty, under the Children and families Act 2014, to complete assessments and issues EHC plans if required within 20 weeks.

“This time period includes working with a range of practitioners, including schools, to assess the child and allow for parents to be involved in co-constructing the plan. We will achieve this by employing more specialist staff.”

SEND is a ‘national issue’

Following Cllr Clark’s response, Cllr James Jamieson, leader of Central Bedfordshire Council and chair of the Local Government Association (LGA) said that the council has a lot to do, but is not alone as SEND is a national issue. He said:

“I do think this needs to be seen in the context of the national picture, where around 60% of councils have been written to by Ofsted.

“It is a national issue and in my LGA role I am seeing that at many councils, and there are issues with SEND at this council and other councils.”

As the inspection report from Ofsted is in the form of a letter every inspected local area is written to. So where did this 60% figure come from? A council spokesperson said:

“The 60% figure refers to the percentage of Local Authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups that were jointly asked to submit a Written Statement of Action following the SEND inspection process last year.”

The LGA published a report ‘A child-centred recovery‘ in September which contains its policy lines on SEND.

Data from Ofsted shows that in the 2019/20 academic year there were 16 area SEND inspections (inspections were paused in March 2020 due to COVID-19). Nine (56%) of which required a Written Statement of Action. The data also shows that to date there have been 116 completed area SEND inspections, and 57 areas (49%) did not require a Written Statement of Action. Not being required to produce a Written Statement of Action does not mean that these 57 areas do not need to improve.

Definition of 'put into context'

Central Bedfordshire Children’s Services has “been on a journey”

Cllr Jamieson continued:

“It also needs to be seen in the context of the overall children’s services, where children services at Central Bedfordshire have been on a journey since its conception.

“From what was quite frankly borderline inadequate to now being rated good and in many cases with outstanding features.”

A search of the Children’s Services inspection in 2017 by Ofsted (Inspection date: 12 June 2017 – 6 July 2017, report published 25 August 2017) only has one mention of ‘outstanding’; and that was for a children’s home. CBC was asked for more information about the ‘many cases with outstanding features’.

A CBC spokesperson said:

“The statement from Cllr Jamieson, which can be viewed online, is quite clear in that he refers to the transformation of Children’s Services from ‘borderline inadequate’ to ‘good’.

“This is noted by Ofsted in its Inspection of Services for Children in Need of Help and Protection, Children Looked After and Care Leavers and Review of the Effectiveness of the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board that took place between 12 June and 6 July, 2017.

“Cllr Jamieson then made reference to some particular cases and practices referenced in the inspection report that were referred to as exemplary or, in his view, ‘outstanding’.”

The 2017 report also does not contain the word ‘exemplary’.

The spokesperson pointed out that the Ofsted Focused visit to Central Bedfordshire Council Children’s Services that took place on 5th and 6th February 2018, Ofsted Inspectors said that supervision is exemplary across teams.

Cllr Jamieson compared CBC’s Children’s Services with neighbouring councils, he said:

“If we look at our neighbouring seven councils only one other is rated good, Hertfordshire, with all the others rated inadequate or requires improvement.

“So quite clearly overall we are performing in Children’s Services. We may not be as good as we’d like to be in every aspect of it and we are determined to get better.”

Cllr Jamieson concluded by saying that it is ‘essential’ that the executive and deputy executive members for Children’s Services carry on to finish the job that they have started. The full agenda item can be viewed below via CBC’s ‘share this agenda point’ option.