Inspectors find significant weaknesses in services for those with special educational needs

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A recent inspection into the services across Cheshire East for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities has found that there are significant areas of weakness in the local area's practice.

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) conducted a joint inspection in March 2018 to judge the effectiveness of the area in implementing the special educational needs and disability reforms as set out in the Children and Families Act 2014.

As a result of the findings of this inspection, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector (HMCI) has determined that a written statement of action is required because of significant areas of weakness in the local area's practice. HMCI has also determined that the local authority and the area's clinical commissioning groups are jointly responsible for submitting the written statement to Ofsted.

The inspection raised significant concerns about the effectiveness of the local area, particularly regarding the timeliness, process and quality of education, health and care plans; and the lack of an effective pathway for children and young people with autism and unreasonable waiting times.

During the week-long visit, government inspectors attended 60 focus groups, which included contributions from more than 200 staff and 130 parents and carers.

The inspectors main findings were:

  • While there are significant strengths in Cheshire East, these are overshadowed by serious weaknesses in the timeliness, process and quality of education, health and care (EHC) plans and the lack of an effective autism spectrum disorder (ASD) pathway.
  • Leaders' evaluation identifies the main strengths and areas for development but the extent of the weaknesses in some areas of provision are not accurately identified. As a result, leaders' plans to address these significant issues are underdeveloped and not specific enough.
  • Leaders know the context of the local area and the challenges they face regarding SEN provision. Actions have been taken to build the necessary capacity to ensure that more children and young people have their needs met within the local area, particularly around building capacity for extra spaces.
  • There has been a significant improvement in the strategic leadership of SEN in the area. This has given impetus to the tardy implementation of the special educational needs and disability code of practice. Leaders are honest about how recently the implementation of the reforms began. There is no doubt that the pace of change has dramatically increased but there is a lot of lost ground to recuperate. Many actions are new and the impact cannot be fully seen.
  • The energy and enthusiasm of leaders at a strategic level to improve provision is yet to impact on children, young people and their families. Professionals are able to see the difference and how their own practice is improving. Frontline professionals are committed and resolute in their work for children, young people and their families.
  • There are well-established and strong relationships between leaders that facilitate joint working and a shared vision to improve outcomes for children and young people in Cheshire East. However, there is no formalised agreement as to how leaders in education, health and social care will work together.
  • Children and young people are the local area's richest asset. Inspectors were impressed and humbled by the contribution that they make to enrich the lives of their peers and the local area. As was said to the lead inspector, 'I'm proud of my disability, it helps me see others in a different way and as they are. I'm a much better person as a result.'
  • The children and young people who inspectors spoke to all had a secure understanding of how to keep themselves safe and what they would do should they have any concerns or worries. Inspectors also saw some excellent examples of the work carried out around sexual exploitation and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender matters.

Councillor Jos Saunders, Cheshire East Council cabinet member for children and families, said: "The findings of the report were broadly as we were expecting and it is reassuring to know that we are very much on the right path and improving in the areas that still need our full attention.

"There is an ongoing programme of work, which now needs reprioritising to review our processes but it is very encouraging to know that the outcomes that we are delivering for so many of our young people with special educational needs are still very good.

"Most authorities have struggled with reaching government targets and we are certainly not complacent about where we need to improve. Cheshire East Council is committed to supporting our children and will use the inspection findings in our ongoing development work.

"We are striving to deliver better, more-focussed provision and this inspection has shown that we are on the right track. I am very grateful to all those dedicated professionals that deliver such outstanding work every day."

Chris Jaydeokar co-chair of the Cheshire East Parent Carer Forum, said: "We were delighted that so many parents took part in the inspection and shared their personal stories, ensuring that the inspectors got to hear first hand what the families using these services experience. Using the expertise of families and carers is a vital part of shaping services for our children and young people.

"We want to support Cheshire East's senior leaders to improve services, so that the impact is felt on the ground by everyone. We hope that the culture of parents and professionals working together as equal partners for better outcomes for children becomes part of everyone's daily life.

"The goal of any inspection is to improve outcomes for our children and young people, and we welcome the opportunity to work with the local authority and health services to achieve this.

"The inspection makes it clear that there are some good developments under way and we look forward to continuing to work together to make sure that our members' families feel tangible benefits."

The inspection letter can be viewed on the Cheshire East Council website.

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