Report heavily criticises support for Peterborough youngsters with special education needs

Protesters in Peterborough city centre
Protesters in Peterborough city centre
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Major concerns have been raised about the support in place for young people with special education needs in Peterborough.

A highly critical report by regulators has demanded that Peterborough City Council and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group write a ‘Written Statement of Action’ in response to its findings.

Inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission said there were “significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice” after reviewing how well 2014 SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) reforms have been implemented.

The reforms were brought in to keep children with SEND in mainstream schools and introduced ECHPs (Educational, Health and Care Plans) which set out the support they need.

However, an investigation by JPIMedia, which owns the Peterborough Telegraph, has revealed stark drops in the percentage of children with additional needs attending mainstream primary and secondary schools since 2012.

Family Voice Peterborough, which supports parents and carers of children and young people with disabilities, said it was “not surprised” by the regulators’ findings.

Parents and carers have been protesting in Peterborough in recent months due to what they claim is a “crisis” in the system, including claims children are being excluded from mainstream schools which are struggling to cope.

The city council said it was aware of the problems highlighted by inspectors and had already begun implementing changes.

The newly released report highlights a number of strengths, but also several key criticisms. These include:

. Children and young people with SEND waiting too long for support

. Parents and carers told “repeatedly” by professionals in education and health services to “wait and see” if things get better

. “Well founded” and “significant” concerns about the quality of ECHPs, including “insufficient or inaccurate information”

. Parents and carers not feeling listened to

. Poorer provision for 18 to 25-year-olds than younger children

. “Significant weaknesses” in meeting the demand for health services, with long waits for support

. “Weak” strategic oversight into outcomes

. Disagreements between services over who should fund essential resources, making “day-to-day life a struggle for children, young people and their families”

. A lack of short-break opportunities, although a new service will be available soon

. Information systems which are “not fit for purpose”, although a new system is coming into place in the autumn.

The trustees of Family Voice Peterborough said: “Here at Family Voice Peterborough we are not surprised by the findings, as it has highlighted the issues that we have been raising across education, health and social care since the SEND reforms came into being in 2014.

“These findings will give us new impetus to carry on the work we are doing to ensure that outcomes improve for children with SEND, but we cannot do this work without the support of more parent carers.”

Strengths highlighted in the report included: the use of special educational needs coordinators, supported internships leading to more people employment and good support from the children’s community nursing service.

The council stressed it is taking steps to improve matters with a new IT system introduced to make it easier for parents and professionals to coordinate the EHCP process, a new governance board and the appointment of an assistant director with responsibility for SEND implementation.

Cllr Lynne Ayres, council cabinet member for children’s services and education, said: “Inspectors found that their concerns were of no surprise to leaders and that actions to address many of the weaknesses are in place. They also said that many of the actions are at the early stages of implementation and it is therefore too early to see the impact.

“Making the changes that we know we need to, with the funding that we have available, is undoubtedly challenging. We simply don’t receive the funding that we need from the Government to provide SEND services.

“That said, we accept the findings and the council, health services and our partners will do everything we can within the available resources to make the required improvements.”

A CCG spokesperson said: “We were pleased to see the inspectors’ report highlighted a number of strengths with our partnership working, including how well children, young people, parents, carers and professionals work together to improve the quality and range of services available.

“Many of the areas of concern raised by the inspectors already have actions in place to address them and we will work hard to address the outstanding items.”

Nazreen Bibi, Peterborough branch officer for the National Autistic Society, said: “The Ofsted report on SEND reforms highlights keys issues which come as no surprise.

“However, it’s interesting to note that the rationale for some of the shortcomings are a mix of poor implementation and a lack of funding. As a campaigner I was already aware of the shortcomings, what I want to know is how are the issues raised going to be addressed?

“I would like to see a clear action plan which includes specific, measurable and achievable goals.”

A letter pleading for more funding to support children and young people with SEND was sent to the Government in July.

The letter was written by Family Voice Peterborough and co-signed by, among others, North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara, leader of Peterborough City Council Cllr John Holdich, council executive director for people and communities Wendi Ogle-Welbourn (pictured) and Tracy Dowling, chief executive of the Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

The letter written to the then secretaries of state for education and health and social care stated that funding had decreased year on year.

It added: “There are greater tensions and divisions arising as the system is coming across as more adversarial and more and more families fight for a piece of what is perceived as an ever shrinking pot.

“This is leading to the breakdown of relations and trust between parents, carers and professionals.”

In its reply, the Department of Health and Social Care said it recognised the “challenging” funding positions for councils and that it was considering future funding for local authorities after carrying out a review.

Ms Ogle-Welbourn said: “There is lots of good work happening in Peterborough to support families, but we don’t have enough resources to deliver all the services that parents and carers say they want and need.”

Children with special needs are increasingly being “forced” out of mainstream education despite new legal protections, a charity has warned.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) accused the Government of an “ongoing attack on disabled people’s rights to be included rather than segregated from society”.

And campaigners have accused schools of putting exam results and their reputations before the needs of disabled pupils.

The number of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in mainstream education has fallen by 24 per cent in England since 2012 while the number attending special schools has risen by 31 per cent, analysis by JPIMedia shows. This is despite the introduction of the Children and Families Act 2014 which states that children with SEN Dshould usually be given a place in mainstream classes.

The Government said all schools should be inclusive.

Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator at ALLFIE, said: “Parental choice is a myth – parents we know do not choose special school provision, they are forced into it because mainstream schools no longer have the money and support to implement inclusive education practice.”