Inspectors raise 'significant concerns' about SEND services in Northumberland

Northumberland County Council's HQ - County Hall in Morpeth.
Northumberland County Council's HQ - County Hall in Morpeth.

There are ‘significant weaknesses’ in services for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities in Northumberland.

National reforms which came into force in 2014 placed a duty on local authorities to lead on integration arrangements between health services, social-care provision and education for children and young people with SEND (special educational needs and/or disabilities).

A joint inspection of Northumberland’s provision by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which took place in October, ‘raises significant concerns about the effectiveness of the local area’.

The report, published today (Friday, December 7), concludes that a written statement of action must be produced and submitted to Ofsted that explains how the local area will tackle the following ‘areas of significant weakness’:

Weaknesses in the local area’s arrangements for jointly planning, commissioning and providing the services children and young people with SEND and their families need;

The graduated response to identifying, assessing and meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND is not embedded in mainstream primary and secondary schools;

The poor outcomes achieved by children and young people with SEND and weaknesses in successfully preparing them for their adult lives.

Inspectors said that Northumberland County Council and NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) are ‘jointly responsible’ for this written statement.

The main findings of the report include that ‘families in Northumberland have widely different experiences of the local area’s arrangements for identifying, assessing and meeting their children’s needs’, while the children and young people do not do well enough in mainstream schools with too many also being excluded.

It adds that leaders ‘are not jointly planning, commissioning and providing education, health and care services in a way which is improving children and young people’s outcomes’.

However, the report does say that ‘there has been a determined drive to improve arrangements’ in the last year, with ‘confidence in leaders strengthening and the pace of improvement increasing’.

Plus, ‘new leadership structures and recently-developed action plans provide a more secure starting point for tackling the significant weaknesses in these arrangements’.

Perhaps most importantly, ‘front-line staff in education, health and care services, and in schools, work hard and are making a valued difference to children and young people with SEND and their families’.

A joint statement on behalf of the county council, CCG and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: “We welcome the findings of the Ofsted and CQC report which outlines areas of strength and good practice within some services, as well as other areas where there is still work to do, which we acknowledge.

“The inspector has highlighted our determined drive in recent months to improve arrangements for meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND. The report highlights growing confidence in our services, and the pace of change and improvement.

“In some areas, we’ve made great strides over the last 12 to 18 months. The report acknowledges new leadership structures which are now in place, and commends the action plans that have been developed. These combined provide a secure platform to tackle issues and improvements required head-on.

“We know we need to make more progress in implementing the recent reforms. Across the whole UK though, demand for services is increasing and Northumberland faces similar challenges to many other local-authority areas. We’re determined to address these, and have firm plans in place across all service areas to expedite improvements as quickly as possible.

“Additional support where it is needed has been put in place, and we’ve already invested in developments such as the extension at the Priory School in Hexham to provide additional school places, which have been welcomed.

“We’ll continue to work at pace to ensure improvements are made where they are needed, and have drawn up an action plan to ensure that we address the findings of this report in a timely manner.

“We look forward to working collaboratively with the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care to develop our SEND provision in the county.

“We would also like to thank all parents, carers, children and young people who took part in the inspection and we look forward to working collaboratively with them in the future.”

The report said that there is ‘growing confidence, which is exemplified by the
strengthening partnership between leaders and the local parent and carer forum, In It Together’.

Elizabeth Johnston, chairman of In It Together, said: “In It Together was very pleased that so many parents and carers took part in the inspection and shared their personal stories, ensuring that the inspectors got to hear from families about their experiences and challenges.

“The inspection has identified a number of key issues on which we will focus in partnership with officers from the local authority, health services, voluntary organisations and local groups.

“We aim, as always, to ensure that a wide range of families are able to input into plans going forward. We will be holding events and meetings around the county at our locality meeting venues so that parents views are incorporated into future plans.

“We want to support Northumberland to improve services, so that the impact is felt on the ground by everyone. We hope that the culture of parents and professionals working together as equal partners leads to better outcomes for children and young people with additional or SEND.

“Our aim is to represent the views of as many families as possible; and continuing to develop recent good co-production with the local authority.”

Alison Lawson, North East regional director at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: "This report makes clear that serious improvements are needed across Northumberland to stop children with special educational needs from falling behind.

"The overall picture this report paints is really worrying. It identifies weaknesses in planning and commissioning services for children with special educational needs, shows that too many children aren’t doing as well as they should be, and also highlights weaknesses in how these children and young people are being prepared for adulthood.

"There are 245 deaf children living in Northumberland, and with the right support they can achieve just as well as any other child. I look forward to working with Northumberland County Council to make sure that our children are getting the support they so desperately need and that serious improvements are made across the county."

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service

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