Inspection that found ‘systemic failings’ in Hertfordshire's SEND provision is formally presented to councillors

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Formally presented to councillors for the first time

AN inspection that found ‘systemic failings’ in the provision of SEND services in Hertfordshire has been formally presented to councillors for the first time.

The inspection – by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission – found that too many children with SEND in Herts were waiting too long for their needs to be met and for provision to be put in place.

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It said there were ‘systemic failings’ that led to ‘signinificant concerns’ abut the experiences and outcomes of children and young people with SEND.

Hertfordshire County CouncilHertfordshire County Council
Hertfordshire County Council

And it said the ‘local area partnership’ – which includes NHS and the county council – should address these ‘urgently’.

On Wednesday (November 22) the inspectors’ findings – and ongoing work to address the failings it highlighted – were outlined to members of the council’s education, libraries and lifelong learning cabinet panel.

Director of inclusion and skills Hero Slinn acknowledged that the report ‘reflected that too many children and young people are not having their needs’.

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And – before apologising and vowing to improve the service – she told the meeting: “We must address this with urgency.

“We don’t want to be in that position. So I certainly apologise for that. We apologise for that.

“And we are going to work really hard to improve this situation.”

At the meeting councillors unanimously agreed that they had ‘serious concerns’ about the outcome of the inspection.

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During the debate, Labour councillor Baroness Taylor acknowledged the apologies for ‘failures’.

But she questioned how those apologies would land with parents who had had to ‘fight long and bitter battles’ to get an EHCP for their child and the provision they needed.

And she acknowledged that each delay had risked ‘a fundamental and devastating impact on that child life’.

“It’s a lonely and treacherous struggle for a parent to take on the leviathan of a county council, with its officers lawyers processes and procedures,” she told the meeting.

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“They did that to fight for the best opportunities for their children and too often they were not listened to.

“They must have felt sometimes that if only as much effort and resources were expended in delivering the support they needed as was done in resisting it the fight would not have been necessary.”

Baroness Taylor said the systemic failures now identified had become ‘normalised’ – ‘ a situation that we must never allow to happen again’.

And she said there should be ‘accountability’ at a local and national level.

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Also highlighting parents’ experiences, Liberal Democrat Cllr Mark Watkin said the ‘biggest challenge’ would be ‘to show parents real improvement’.

And he said: “You talk to any parent, almost at random, and they just are in despair at the failings to get the service they need for their children.

“Whether it be EHCPs carried out correctly, whether it be the right school for their children, whether it’s access to the specialist services they need to have their children assessed – the situation at the moment is dire.”

Fellow Liberal Democrat Cllr Lawrence Brass said it was ‘a very damning report’.

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He pointed to long waits – with children going out of county or into the independent sector – and echoed calls for accountability.

Meanwhile panel vice chairman Cllr Michael Mills-Bishop stressed he – and executive member Cllr Caroline Clapper – were ‘absolutely determined’ that action and results will follow the report.

He welcomed the appointment of Dame Christine Lenehan as independent chair to oversee the improvement plan.

And he said the apology would go out ‘loud and clear’ to parents – stressing ‘we get it’.

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In the wake of the report, education chiefs are already drawing up a ‘priority action plan’ that they will submit to inspectors in December.

And then they expect to face a re-inspection of their progress in July 2026.

Strengthened governance, investment in additional SEND officers and the creation of more special school places are among the ongoing work highlighted to councillors.

And executive director for children’s services Jo Fisher told councillors the leadership team were determined to move further and faster to implement the improvement plans.

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“Whilst the report quite rightly identifies some significant failings and challenges in Hertfordshire it does also recognise that we – in the last two years – have recognised the scale of the challenges for our parents and carers and have put in place the right improvement plans,” she said.

“We are absolutely determined as a leadership team to go further and faster to implement those improvement plans – so that parents and carers see and feel the improvement in place.”

In the report inspectors highlight the ‘significant delays’ with EHCPs in the county, as well as suggesting too many are ‘poor quality’.

But at the meeting officers highlighted the £5m a year investment in SEND, that would fund 80 additional EHCP officers to improve the process, to be in place by April (2024).

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Those plans also include a new SEND Academy for the training and development of new and existing staff.

And education chiefs says the changes – significantly increasing the current 102 staff – will improve and speed up the EHCP process.

The report also highlights a shortage of specialist school places in the county.

And at the cabinet panel officers outlined the ongoing work to increase the number of places, as part of a £91m investment to create 1000 additional places between 2018 and 2026.

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Councillors heard that 560 special school places had already been created since 2018 – with a further 269 expected by 2026.

In addition they heard there were 255 places in ‘specialist resource provisions’ – for children with communication needs and for pupils at risk of exclusion – already open or due to open by September 2026.

The meeting – which lasted for four-and-a-half hours – can be viewed on the council’s website.

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