A councillor has described it as “distressing” that some parents of children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) in Central Bedfordshire are still not seeing signs of improvement.
A written statement of action was submitted by Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) and Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) after a critical report.
An inspection in November 2019 by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found “significant areas of weakness in the local practice“.
A report on a recent monitoring visit was given to CBC’s children’s services overview and scrutiny committee.
“CBC is making good progress, but nobody’s being complacent,” according to external consultant and SEND programme director Paul Senior.
“The lived experience for a number of our parents still isn’t where we want it to be,” he warned.
“Nobody is saying we’ve got this licked and no-one is saying the system’s perfect.
“But we have to be balanced and we have to recognise since the SEND inspection there has been progress.
“We’re held to the highest level of scrutiny by the Department for Education and NHS England.
“The intention is we’ll have a full reinspection 18 months after the statement of action has been authorised by Ofsted, which is due to take place next March at the earliest.”
There are 7,500 children and young people locally, aged 0 to 25, accessing the SEND system, with 2,100 having a statutory plan, the committee was told.
“We know among that there’s some disquiet,” he said. “We do realise there are gaps and areas for improvement.
“But according to the regulators we’re making good progress. The next monitoring visit is due to take place in 29 June.
“We recognise we need to engage on a wider basis with parents across the local area and not just rely on the parent carer forum.
“We’re not reaching as well as we want to reach Black, Asian, minority or ethnic group parents.
“Recent improvements in this space has seen better activity with the gipsy and Romany travelling communities.“
Mr Senior acknowledged “for some parents and for some families we haven’t gone far enough,” and referred to “a base line” for children’s education, health and care plans (EHCPs) when they’re reviewed after a year.
Independent Ampthill councillor Mark Smith described the report as “somewhat contradictory” with a “full cohort of parents who weren’t impressed with the progress being made“.
As the issues have been around since 2018 and seven months since the plan of action began, he said: “I find it distressing to say the least that parents aren’t seeing progress. Expectations have been raised by the EHCP audit.“
CBC director of children’s services Sue Harrison said: “Progress against the action plan doesn’t mean every single parent will be satisfied with the service now.
“There are some we’re working with really closely who still haven’t got the outcomes they want.
“Some of the issues have been around a lot longer than 2018 in terms of the system needing to change.
“Absolutely we owe that where the council can make a difference we are doing and we want to make a greater difference.
“There’s no excuse for poor practice. People coming into the system now are getting a better experience.
“This was going to be a culture change, which is going to take 18 months. We’re a year into that and I’m disappointed some families still aren’t happy.
“There’s some positive feedback. There are staff doing great work supporting children.
“We don’t give up on our families and I hope they won’t give up on us.“