Cabinet will discuss the findings of an independent peer review into the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) services being delivered to children and their families in Southend-on-Sea.
The review was carried out by the Local Government Association (LGA) in November 2021 and saw six reviewers from different SEND backgrounds, spending collectively more than 300 hours, over three and a half days carrying out their observations. They spoke to more than 110 people including parents and carers, particular stakeholder groups, and council officers, before making their recommendations.
The peer review follows on from a revisit by OFSTED and the Care Quality Commission and the subsequent report published in June 2021, which found there had been sufficient progress made in three out of four areas of significant weakness identified in an October 2018 inspection. The fourth area was joint commissioning.
The LGA report and the draft action plan explaining what steps will be taken against the 15 recommendations, will be discussed at cabinet on Thursday 13 January. It includes areas of SEND and Children with Disabilities (CWD) services.
Some of the strengths identified in the report include:
- Leaders across all areas of education, health and social care want to create a joined-up, outward looking support offer to children with SEND and their families
- There is strong partnership working with Southend SEND Independent Forum (SSIF), the local parent carer forum, who hold the council to account
- There is a ‘strong, multi-agency Education Health Care Needs Assessment panel, with clear terms of reference and decisions are made following well-structured discussions’
- Staff in the CWD team are child-centred and ‘clearly care about the children and families with whom they are working’
Some areas which need further work include:
- Too many Education Health Care Needs Assessments have been refused
- Parents of children with disabilities feel defensive because they are assessed through a ‘safeguarding’ lens, which they feel unfairly questions their ability as a parent
- Parents and carers need ‘what happens next’ explained in a clear and understandable way, to make the ‘maze’ of SEND services easier to navigate
- Some parents feel significant anger and distress at their lived experiences and lack of support, some of which are historic. Some also feel they have to ‘battle’ for services
Cllr Laurie Burton, cabinet member for children and learning, said: “It was really helpful to get an outside expert view on the service we’re providing, to give us the confidence in what we’re doing well and pinpoint the areas which need more attention.
“I want to thank those who participated in the review and by doing so, played a part in helping us develop the action plan and ways in which we can deliver a better service to our children with SEND and their families.
“This includes improving communication with parents, making it easier to understand what services are available and how they can be accessed, and basically making sure that child with SEND and their families, get the support they need, when they need it.”
While SEND services are offered jointly by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, NHS Southend Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT), schools and other partners, the peer review specifically focussed on council-run aspects of the service.
The report and action plan will be discussed by Cabinet on Thursday 13 January and the papers are on the council’s website.