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SEND provision progress is still too slow in Central Bedfordshire says Care Quality Commission

SEND provision progress is still too slow in Central Bedfordshire says Care Quality Commission

Progress in three areas of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision in Central Bedfordshire remains too slow, according to Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

But Central Bedfordshire Council and its health partners no longer have to monitor three other areas of weakness highlighted during their inspection in November 2019. These are the SEND Strategy, co-production and CBC’s local offer.

Ofsted and the CQC assessed the local area’s progress against the six areas of weakness identified in their inspection report letter of February 2020.

Protestors outside Central Beds Council’s HQ in Chicksands

The inspectors recognised progress had been made in all six areas, after a revisit to the local authority this summer, said CBC director of children’s services Sarah-Jane Smedmor in an email to councillors.

“The inspectors noted the area has a well thought out SEND strategy, with well-established multi-agency structures to provide strategic oversight and ensure operational delivery of the strategy.

“They also noted a positive culture of joint working and openness across the partnership.

“Collaborative working was highlighted as a strength with an increasingly strong commitment to co-production and increased opportunities for leaders to listen to families and respond to what they hear.

“Inspectors could see our local offer is helpful to families and professionals, and is reflective of the aspiration and interests of our children and young people.

“Although these three areas don’t need to be externally monitored now, we’ll maintain our hard work to continuously improve in each of them.

“There were three areas where inspectors acknowledged some progress had been made, but changes were too recent to have an impact and be felt by parents yet.

“These were ensuring the needs of children and young people are identified and met in their education, health and care plans (EHCPs), the quality of new EHCPs, and delivering good outcomes for children and young people with SEND.

“We know how fundamentally important timely and quality EHCPs are to children and young people with complex needs getting the right support,” she added.

“We wrote to you in May to acknowledge that this is unacceptable and explain what we were doing to address this.

“We accept our progress in this area has been too slow and our more recent actions to improve EHCPs haven’t had time to make a noticeable difference.

“Inspectors noted that some of the more recent annual reviews are of a very high quality. We want every child, young people and their families to have this experience.

“CBC and BLMK integrated care system (ICS) are required to produce a progress plan to the Department for Education (DfE) and NHS England.

“The DfE and NHS will monitor our progress on the remaining three areas over the next 12 months.

“This plan will be our commitment to making sure these three areas continue to improve sufficiently and everyone will feel the benefits. This will be available on our website once it has been agreed.”

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Meanwhile, a Conservative committee chairman has said he wants reassurances around the council’s plans to improve the three areas of its special educational needs and disabilities SEND offer where progress is still too slow.

Biggleswade South councillor Mark Foster, who chairs the children’s services overview and scrutiny committee, has submitted a written question to a full council meeting on Thursday (September 22) to CBC deputy leader Sue Clark.

He will ask the executive member for families, education and children, and Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Clark for “an update on actions taken since the revisit”.

Parents staged two protests outside CBC’s headquarters in just over a year, with the second coinciding with the start of the reinspection this summer.

They gathered outside the council’s Chicksands base to show the strength of feeling over the slow pace of change in the local authority’s SEND provision.

They lined up 52 pairs of shoes outside the building last September, one for each child without a place for the start of the academic year.

In an email to councillors, CBC director of children’s services Sarah-Jane Smedmor said: “Inspectors commented the steps being taken are in the right direction.

“We’ve good understanding of the extensive work that’s required to improve, and we’re addressing this critically important area with candour and greater rigour.

“Inspectors recognised our recent recruitment of extra educational psychologists, the introduction of a robust quality assurance process, early intervention initiatives, and continuous monitoring and reporting are already leading to improvements.

“We’ve plans to implement a completely new EHCP auditing tool, which has been tried and tested at other local authorities and been extremely effective. Staff across the partnership will be trained to use this.

“Ofsted and the CQC could see we’re putting children and young people at the centre of everything we do, there’s effective and open partnership working and they’re confident we can build on our progress.

“The organisations reported that both leaders and staff feel there’s been a sea change in the culture of joint working and openness to respond positively to challenge.

“Recently appointed leaders have seized the opportunity to build on this and accelerate the pace of change.”

The written statement of action is only part of the joint improvement plan, explained Ms Smedmor.

“In their verbal feedback, inspectors acknowledged and commended our approach to taking a wider view of where we need to improve.

“We’re determined to deliver the best service for our children, young people and their families.”

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