County council addresses “significant weaknesses” in special educational needs services

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Essex County Council will submit an action plan to address “significant weaknesses” in special educational needs and disability (SEND) services by the end of March, after a report found “inequality and inconsistency” across the county.

The area will be reinspected in 18 months, by which time it is expected that “significant progress” has been made to address issues around the county’s practice in identifying the needs of children and young people with moderate learning difficulties.

This relates to the way that partners work together to plan services, and in the quality of education, health and care (EHC) plans.

Particularly the key areas where the service was not consistent are around speech and language, occupational physical therapy and autism diagnosis.

In some areas children were waiting up to two years for autism assessments, the joint CQC and Ofsted report found of the service which helps under-25s who need additional help with schooling and creates educational care plans.

Essex County Council (ECC) and five clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Basildon and Brentwood, North East Essex, West Essex, Mid Essex and Castle Point and Rochford, which work together to provide SEND services across the county, have accepted the report’s findings.

Clare Kershaw, ECC’s director for education, told a health board meeting on Thursday, January 29: “One of the main challenges is how we get a consistency of offer across Essex but not to mean there is a single provider delivering that consistency of offer.

“But where you live in Essex should you have a child recognised with special education needs and disabilities that the service you receive is the same across the county.”

ECC and the five CCGs have now set up an improvement board and a number of  deep dive workshops have assessed  what needs to be done

An action plan has to be with Ofsted by March 27, which if accepted will be followed by a reinspection by Ofsted and CQC in 18 months.

Ms Kershaw added: “The expectation is that we will have made signifiant progress in addressing the areas of significant weakness but more importantly what difference will it have made to children and families in Essex.

“We can change our systems and processes and procedures to work more effectively together but if it is not felt and seen by families on the ground that will be the benchmark by which we will be assessed.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter

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