Inspectors find ‘systemic failings’ in Hertfordshire's SEND services

Children with special educational needs and disabilities are waiting too long for their needs to be assessed and addressed
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TOO many Hertfordshire children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are waiting too long for their needs to be assessed and for provision to be put in place, inspectors have found.

The team of inspectors – from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission – have identified ‘widespread and/or systemic failings’ in the provision of SEND services in Hertfordshire, during their scrutiny of education, social care and health provision in the county.

They say this leads to ‘significant concerns’ about the experiences and outcomes of children and young people with SEND.

Hertfordshire County CouncilHertfordshire County Council
Hertfordshire County Council

And they have told the ‘local area partnership’ – which includes NHS and the county council – that it must address these ‘urgently’.

Their report – published today (November 10) – highlights a catalogue of issues, including delays in the EHCP process and a shortage of specialist education places.

It also points to delays in ASD and ADHD diagnosis, as well as long wait times to access speech and language services

Officials from Hertfordshire County Council and the Herts and West Essex Integrated Care Board are now drawing-up an action plan to address key areas, which will be submitted to Ofsted and the CQC next month (December 19).

And Dame Christine Lenehan has been appointed as an independent chair to oversee the delivery of the plan.

Leader of the county council Cllr Richard Roberts has told the LDRS that the partnership – which includes the county council and the Herts and West Essex Integrated Care Board – accepts the inspection findings.

He said parents of children with special educational needs ‘absolutely need confidence’ in the local authority, the health service and the educational services they receive.

And he says they are now taking urgent action – with an ‘improvement journey’ , that he says is already underway

“We accept the findings of the report and recognise too many children and young people with SEND and their families have not received the support they need and deserve,” he said.

“We are all, across the whole partnership, sorry for this and are takingurgent action to address the priority actions and areas for improvement.”

According to the inspectors’ report too many children and young people going through EHCP assessment experience ‘significant delays’ in receiving their final plan – and too many of those plans are ‘poor quality’.

It points to errors sometimes not corrected within plans, that can ‘lack precision and clarity’ and typically do not capture the voice or experience of the child.

And it says work to improve systems and processes to support more effective EHC planning and review has been ‘too slow’.

The report points to ‘a significant number’ of parents who feel they have no alternative but to educate their child at home, while waiting for ‘suitable provision’ – and to a ‘shortage’ of specialist education.

And it also raises concerns about the rate of exclusions of children with EHCPs.

In response, Cllr Roberts stresses that even before the inspection, the local authority had been putting additional funding into the EHCP process – including £5m this year.

And he points to an additional 560 places special school places that have been created in the past four years – as well as plans for a further 300.

The report also highlights ‘significant variation’ in the timeliness of health assessments – particularly for ASD and ADHD.

It acknowledges that investment in this has been made, but that the impact is ‘yet to be felt by families and practitioners’.

In response Elliot Howard-Jones, from the Herts and West Essex ICB, points to growth in demand and increasing complexity.

He puts this increase down, in part to the pandemic and also down to a greater awareness of neurodiversity.

He says that he is ‘disappointed’ that children are having to wait as long as they do – with some waiting in excess of 78 weeks.

And he says there has been significant ongoing investment in a bid to bring waiting times down – with ongoing work looking at how data and technology could be better used.

“We recognise that people wait too long and we want to bring those waiting times down.” he said.

Nevertheless, overall the inspectors’ report suggests that action to address issues relating to SEND in the county has not been taken quickly enough.

And it says: “Partnership leaders have not acted with the necessary urgency to address long-standing, systematic and significant weaknesses in the systems an processes to improve the provision for children and young people with SEND and support for their families.”

It goes on to say that leaders have identified the main issues that need to be tackled.

But, it says their evaluation ‘underestimates the scale of the significant weaknesses that exist and the impact this is having on children and young people with SEND and their families, often over a prolonged period of time’.

Among the positives highlighted by the inspectors are the new governance structure and improvements in the information available to support practitioners.

It highlights the partnership’s close working with the Hertfordshire parent carer forum HCPI, the provision of careers advice and guidance – with leaders being proactive in creating links with employers.

It highlights the work of the public health nursing team and SENDIASS with families and the commissioning of alternative provision to enable schools to intervene and reduce the risk of exclusion.

And it says that once children and young people with SEND meet the threshold for support from the intensive family support and social care teams, the care is of a ‘high quality’.

The inspectors’ report can be found on the Ofsted website.