‘Significant improvement’ made with special educational needs in Peterborough
In 2019, inspectors identified “significant areas of weakness” in how special educational needs provision was carried out in Peterborough.
Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission highlighted several problem areas, including children and young people with additional needs waiting too long for support, poor quality of plans to keep them in mainstream education, “weak” strategic oversight, funding disagreements and information systems which were “not fit for purpose”.
The city council is now braced for a re-inspection later this year, but this time it expects to receive a far different verdict.
After receiving the report from inspectors two years ago, the authority was ordered to produce a Written Statement of Action outlining how it would make improvements.
And speaking to the Peterborough Telegraph about the changes which have been made in that time, council service director for education Jonathan Lewis said: “We’ve made really positive progress around the action areas, particularly working with health.
“We have a regular catch-up meeting with the Department for Education and they’re very comfortable with what we’re doing and the progress that’s being made.
“We’re really positive that when they come back they will see a significant improvement.”
Outlining some of the changes which have been made, corporate director for people and communities Wendi Ogle-Welbourn told the PT a new partnership board around SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) has been formed and a new strategy published to highlight areas for improvement.
“It is a particular passion of mine,” she added
The 2019 inspection was to see how well the council had implemented reforms which came into effect five years earlier.
Ms Ogle-Welbourn said: “One of the areas they were concerned about when they came to visit Peterborough was the lack of joined-up commissioning and delivery with health, and we’ve got a really comprehensive commissioning plan with health now - we jointly commission a number of services.
“One of the areas where we’ve both put investment in is occupational therapy and speech and language - so we’ve increased the provision and improved the pathways in that area.”
The number of children’s commissioners is also said to have risen from one to five, while more staff have been hired to manage the transition of 17-year-olds from child mental health services into adult services.
Peterborough’s Local Offer - which gives children and young people with SEND and their families information about support and services in Peterborough - has also been “significantly developed,” it was added.
Despite this, a number of challenges remain. Although Peterborough does not have the high needs education funding crisis currently looming over Cambridgeshire County Council, there is a belief that far more could be done if the money was available.
“We’re holding our own in Peterborough which is against the national trend,” Mr Lewis said.
“Is it enough? Probably not. We could support children’s outcomes better with more money.
“The rise in some specific needs, particularly around autism - social and emotional mental health needs - I think we’re going to need more (money). And I think the Government knows that.
“There are great uncertainties coming out of Covid about what the pressures will be coming forward.”
Asked what additional funding could provide, Mr Lewis replied: “We’d invest more in preventative services. We’d put more in up front.
“A lot of our work goes in through the Education, Health and Care Plan process which is statutory.
“If I had more money I’d be targeting children earlier so they didn’t need to go through that process. We’d be working more with early needs settings. We’d be offering more services which we can’t offer.”
ECHPs were introduced as part of the 2014 reforms and indicate what support a child with SEND should receive.
Ms Ogle-Welbourn added: “In SEN support, if we have more resources we can put in there it might actually not lead onto young people needing EHCPs which would save money in the long run and there would be less distress for people. That is what we’d really like to be able to do.
“We fund a number of groups and clubs and respite, but particularly for those with the most challenging needs we want to put more money in the more specialist respite and care services to give carers a break.”
One of the biggest gripes from parents and carers is around communication, despite the Local Offer being available to view online and a new communications group being set up.
“Every complaint I receive is about communication,” Ms Ogle-Welbourn said.
“My view is we can always do better. We continually look at ways in which we can communicate.
“I think during the pandemic John’s attention to communication and to schools and parents was exemplary.”
Mr Lewis highlighted a new SEND newsletter for autistic children as an example of greater levels of communication.
He added: “95 per cent of parental concerns and queries are on the (Local Offer) website and we spent a lot of time and effort trying to make it accessible.”
The Local Offer can be viewed at: https://fis.peterborough.gov.uk/kb5/peterborough/directory/localoffer.page?familychannel=8.