There were ‘no shocks or surprises’ in an inspection report detailing ‘significant weaknesses’ in services for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities in Northumberland.
As previously reported, a joint inspection of Northumberland’s provision by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which took place in October, raised ‘significant concerns about the effectiveness of the local area’.
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).
Assessing the county’s progress since then, the report, published in December, concluded that a written statement of action (WSOA) must be produced that explains how the local area will tackle three ‘areas of significant weakness’.
At last Thursday’s (January 10) meeting of Northumberland County Council’s family and children’s services committee, an update on the inspection and the next steps was given to members.
Cath McEvoy-Carr, the council’s executive director of children’s services, said the WSOA was ‘not a surprise’, pointing out that there have been seven inspections in the North East so far and six have resulted in a statement.
She added that Northumberland’s self-assessment, a key element of the inspection, was ‘honest, transparent and open’ and was recognised as such by inspectors.
Plus, there were positives in the report, as well as weaknesses, including that front-line staff ‘work hard and make a valued difference to children and young people with SEND and their families’.
“I really was pleased with this,” Mrs McEvoy-Carr said. “It’s important because it shows that those on the front-line are doing what we need them to do to improve the lives of children and young people.”
Coun Wayne Daley, cabinet member for children’s services, added: “There were no shocks in the findings. It proves that our self-assessment process had actually worked really well.
“One of the things they picked up on was the slow pace of improvement from 2014, but it has accelerated in the past 16 months so you may draw from that what you wish in terms of timelines.” (The Conservative administration took power at County Hall in May 2017, about 18 months before the inspection.)
“There are issues to deal with, but the trajectory is a positive one.”
Northumberland’s areas to be addressed in the WSOA are:
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.
The plan to tackle these issues must be completed by March 13 and then monitored quarterly before a more formal check by inspectors about 18 months after the original inspection.
Mrs McEvoy-Carr will also be going out to speak to parents at four sessions to talk about the findings and the response to the report.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service