Is Lancashire ready for special needs re-inspection?

Services provided by Lancashire County Council and local NHS organisations will come under the spotlight
Services provided by Lancashire County Council and local NHS organisations will come under the spotlight

Councillors have said they want reassurance that Lancashire is ready for a re-inspection of services for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Inspectors are due to return to the county in the autumn following a critical report by regulators OFSTED and the Care Quality Commission last year.

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That assessment found twelve “significant areas of concern” across the local authority and NHS organisations responsible for special needs provision – although it did acknowledge better performance in the months leading up to the inspection.

The county’s SEND Partnership has since drawn up an improvement plan designed to tackle the problems which were highlighted.

But a meeting of Lancashire County Council’s children’s services scrutiny committee heard concern about the number of commitments on which work has yet to begin.

“[This is] an action plan – the clue is in the title – but there are quite a few inactions going on,” deputy committee chair, Nikki Hennessy, said.

A version of the improvement plan dating from mid-April revealed that work had not yet started on one in three of the 94 commitments made. Due dates for the outstanding actions span both 2019 and 2020.

Sally Richardson, Lancashire County Council’s head of inclusion, told the meeting that it was only “timing” which had prevented a more recently-updated incarnation of the plan being presented to members.

The authority’s acting director of children’s social care, Sally Allen, added that the volume of work to be undertaken meant it could only be completed over time.

“Because there is so much work involved in the improvement plan, it does have to be staged,” she explained.

Committee chair Andrea Kay recommended that future updates of the plan include provisional start dates – as well as completion times – to assure members that the necessary progress is being made.

The improvement plan lays out four ambitions for special needs services in the county – meeting the needs of young people, being child-centred, helping young people to achieve their ambitions and creating a system of equal partners beweeen parents and organisations.

Out of the 63 measures on which work has started, 23 are either completed or in the final stages, work is ongoing on a further 39 and only one – the implementation of an electronic system for education, health and care plans – is deemed at risk.

Criticisms in last year’s report included a failure to engage effectively with parents, a lack of understanding of the local area by leaders and the absence of a plan to improve outcomes for young people.

Committee members heard that improvements made to the system in the intervening eighteen months range from an extensive survey of parental opinion to a better oversight of arrangements to jointly commission services between the local authority and the NHS.

Lancashire will get 10 days’ notice of the fresh inspection visit, which is expected sometime after September and will last between two and four days. The area will be expected to show what impact its improvement plan is having.

In a statement after the meeting, Sian Rees, Improvement Partner, said: “Lancashire SEND Partnership published its improvement plan on 1 April following consultation with all our partners, including health, education, Lancashire County Council, parent carers and young people. It continues the work started in 2018, in the written statement of action, which was a requirement of the Ofsted inspection in late 2017.

“The improvement plan sets out the work required to continue to improve SEND services across Lancashire during 2019 and 2020. We wouldn’t expect all of the planned tasks to have started at this early stage. The majority of work is underway and we are sharing regular updates on progress. The latest version of the improvement plan will be hosted on the SEND Partnership website following each Board meeting, with the next update on 3rd June.

“Families can read more information about the SEND Partnership on our website or email”