Banbury MP speaks out on damning OFSTED report on the dire state of SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) provision
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Oxforshire County Council’s (OCC) officers and councillors have issued deep apologies for the dire state of the SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) process after a catalogue of long-standing failings was published last week by OFSTED.
Their revelations show the situation is not a sudden problem. And Banbury MP Victoria Prentis said today (Monday): ”It is unacceptable that only 5,427 out of approximately 23,000 children and young people with SEND in Oxfordshire had an Educational, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) in place in January 2023. They must now right their wrongs, overhaul their processes and restore confidence in the system.”
In its report – available in full here – OFSTED described ‘long-standing failings in local partnership arrangements’.
"For most children, young people and their families, their experience is one of confusion and delay, alongside frustration that their presence and voice are not listened to or valued. Many do not receive the right support or have their needs met effectively… far too many children and young people are lost in the system. The processes intended to support them, hinder them.
"Children’s and young people’s needs are not consistently identified accurately or assessed in a timely and effective way right from the start. Where they are involved, early years settings, health visitors and school nurses do their best to identify and respond to emerging needs in babies, children and young people. However, there are lengthy waiting times for help and leaders have not acted effectively enough to ensure appropriate support is available to mitigate the negative impact of excessive waiting times.”
OFSTED continued: "Too many children and young people do not receive the right help until they are close to crisis point. This is hampered by the lack of cohesive communication systems between services which inhibits joined-up working. Poor information-sharing means important knowledge of children, young people and their families is not connected efficiently and effectively.
“In schools, staff are not always well supported to understand and meet the different needs of children and young people with SEND. Leaders know there is a lack of appropriate specialist settings and alternative provision (AP)… delays in finding the right setting to meet their needs means too many children and young people miss out on important learning and help for an extended time.
"Too many children and young people are unable to access the education provision they need. Some wait for years. Despite their commitment to inclusion, some school leaders are unable to meet pupils’ increasingly varied needs. This is due to a lack of suitable advice, guidance and support from specialists.
"Oxfordshire local area partnership has been characterised by frequent changes and interim arrangements in important roles within the SEND system. There is a disconnect between strategic thinking and operational practice which has contributed to a widespread lack of confidence in area leadership. This has negatively impacted the partnership’s ability to undertake transformation and make sustainable change.”
Both OCC and the BOB ICB have ‘interims’ in place as Director of Children’s Services and Chief Executive Officer.
Around 2,000 parents and carers shared their views with inspectors who said: “A tangible sense of helplessness runs through their descriptions of their lived experiences. These were typically about the years spent waiting or struggling to be heard to get support in education, health and care.”
An OCC statement said: “Oxfordshire local area partnership commits to significant improvements for children with SEND. (It) apologises to families and has committed to significant change to improve support.
"The local area partnership (LAP) will revisit its strategic vision and ensure it has a clear plan with deliverable priorities... by engaging with parents, carers, their children and young people with SEND and supporting organisations. It will also work together on development of an action plan to address the specific concerns raised.
“For those where an education, health and care (EHC) plan is required, the county council will continue to build extra capacity in the SEND team to keep improving the timeliness of EHC plans.
Stephen Chandler, OCC’s Interim Executive Director, People, Transformation and Performance, said: “I am so sorry we have let families down. We fully and unequivocally accept the findings of this report. We must and will do better together as a partnership.
“We are urgently focusing our efforts to address the concerns raised. To do this, we want to develop a joint action plan together with parents and carers of young people with SEND as well as with other support and advocacy organisations.
“We also want to build on the strengths identified which we cannot do without our teams of dedicated professionals who continue to be committed to improving the experiences of children and young people with SEND.
“We care deeply about improving the lives of children and young people and supporting them, along with their families, to thrive. We are determined to make significant changes so we can provide families with a better quality of service at the time they need it most.”
Victoria Prentis MP said: ”I have long raised constituents’ concerns with the leadership at OCC but have often found them difficult to engage with. Having met a number of parents and carers to discuss their experiences, I know how challenging it has been for them to have their voices heard.
“The ‘widespread lack of confidence in area leadership’ identified in the report comes as no surprise.
“It is right that OCC has accepted full responsibility for their failings. They must now right their wrongs, overhaul their processes and restore confidence in the system.”
- Oxfordshire County Council commissions a range of alternative provision for children or young people, including for those who cannot attend school due to social, emotional, and mental health and medical needs, or for those who are at risk of or have been permanently excluded.