SEND services in County Durham have improved significantly in the last three years, a latest Ofsted and CQC inspection has shown.
Between November 2017 and December 2017, Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) services across the county were assessed in a joint inspection by Ofsted and CQC.
During this time, the inspection team identified four specific areas which needed a Written Statement of Action (WSoA) be drawn up to improve local area provision.
Over the last three years, Durham County Council has been working closely in partnership to improve these four areas while receiving monitoring and support visits from the DfE Regional SEN and Disability Professional Adviser, and the NHS England Deputy Director of Quality Assurance.
All local areas with a WSoA are subject to a revisit from Ofsted and the CQC around 18 months after the WSoA was signed off. The WSoA was declared fit for purpose in June 2018 and the council was notified of the revisit in early January 2020, with inspectors on site between 22 and 24 January 2020.
During the revisit, inspectors noted a genuine commitment to ensuring there were various communication and engagement mechanisms with families, and over 400 parents, carers and young people contributed feedback during the inspection.
An outcome letter was received in March 2020 announcing that sufficient progress had been made in all four areas. As a result, no further monitoring of progress is now planned.
The letter highlighted a number of areas where positive changes have been made to SEND services.
It noted that the partnership between education, health and social care leaders is stronger than it was in 2017 and there had been a determined focus on improving arrangements for identifying, assessing and meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND.
Council and health services have also been praised for their commitment to involving children, young people and their families in shaping services, with this work “contributing strongly” to improvement in SEND arrangements.
The letter added that groups such as the Making Changes Together parent and carer forum, the Rollercoaster Support Group, and eXtreme group of young people have been “instrumental in several significant developments since the initial inspection”.
The inspection found that children and young people with SEND and their families have increasingly strong and influential voices in the development of the area’s plans. There has also been a marked reduction in waiting times for specialist autism assessment and speech and language therapy assessment, with times now in line with national guidance.
Commissioning decisions, service planning and performance monitoring are also better informed by the area’s analysis of education, health and social care needs.
Overall, both the council and Durham Clinical Commissioning Group were praised for their “greater collective ambition” for service users.
The council and partners are now working on an action plan to develop local SEND support even further for children and their families. This is being taken forward through the local SEND partnership.
Cllr Olwyn Gunn said: “Partners across education, health and care services have worked together closely to address the issues that were raised in the previous inspection. We are immensely pleased to see that this work has paid off and that the significant improvements to the county’s SEND services have been acknowledged and praised in this inspection.
“Going forward, it is crucial that the needs and views of young people and their families continue to be embedded at the heart of SEND provision, and our services are now working to continue developing this support even further.”
Cabinet will discuss a report on the recent inspection of local SEND services when they meet virtually on Wednesday, 8 July at 9.30am. Members of the public can view the meeting live via the council’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/DurhamCouncil
Councillors to discuss funding for SEND pupils
A five-year plan to ensure children with special educational needs (SEND) can continue to receive the support they need will be outlined to councillors next week.
Durham County Council’s Cabinet will receive an update on the current SEND spend and priority project areas, as well as the ongoing efforts to lobby the Government for additional funding, when members meet on Wednesday 8 July.
Each year, the council receives a Dedicated Schools Grant from the Government to support its school budget. This includes funding for SEND and inclusion support services for children and young people, known as the High Needs Block (HNB).
In recent years this part of the budget has come under increased financial pressure due to a combination of austerity and SEND reforms, which increased the age range children receive support to 0 to 25.
At the same time, the needs of children and young people have become more complex, resulting in local authorities across the country having insufficient resources to provide this vital support.
In County Durham, in 2019/20, there was an overspend of £8.6 million against the HNB funding allocation. However, this was less than the £9.4 million forecasted. The council funded £5.6 million of the overspend from its general reserves, with the remaining £2.7 million increasing its HNB deficit from £3 million to £5.7 million and rolling over to the next financial year.
At next week’s virtual meeting, Cabinet will be asked to approve a proposed five-year plan to ensure future spending is kept to within available resources and the deficit is recovered over this time. The plan also responds to legislation introduced in February which requires councils to cover deficits from within future dedicated school grants.
Cabinet will be asked to agree to the plan being regularly reviewed and updated, including considering any impacts from the coronavirus pandemic and the recovery period.
Members will also hear about the projects being taken forward to make the service more sustainable, following a consultation last year, along with the council’s continuing efforts to lobby the Government for much-needed additional funding for young people with SEND.
Cllr Olwyn Gunn has written to the Secretary of State for Education numerous times to highlight local issues. The most recent letter was sent in March 2020.
She said: “It is vital the Government provides sufficient funding to local authorities to ensure vulnerable children and those with special educational needs get the support required to give them the very best start in life.
“The pressure on HNB funding continues to increase and, while we have been able to subsidise this using our reserves in previous years, this is not sustainable and now requires permission from the Secretary of State. In the North East, we face many unique challenges and I will continue to do everything I can to highlight these issues and lobby the Government for the funding our area so desperately needs
“This is even more important as we start to recover after the coronavirus pandemic and more children and young people return to schools and colleges. We are concerned that some young people may need additional support and resources, and this may cause even more pressure on the budget we currently have available.”
Cabinet will meet virtually at 9.30am on Wednesday 8 July. Members of the public can view the meeting on the council’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/DurhamCouncil