Derby City Council’s Plan for 2015-18 declares that Special Educational Needs (SEN), education and safeguarding children are all “Must Do’s”. This is an explicit commitment that resources will be prioritised to ensure that these are delivered successfully and in line with statutory obligations. So why are they failing?
Up until September 2014, the process for ensuring that a child’s special needs were properly addressed was through the production of a “Statement of special Educational Needs”. The Council had a statutory responsibility to issue this statement within 26 weeks from first application by the parents. Derby City Council set a target of 85% success for 2014/15 following an actual achievement of 87% in 2013/14. The England average was 90%.
In the Councils Annual Performance results for 2014/15 no data was given as to the final result for the year. When asked why this was blank, the Council said:
“We did not include a figure for this indicator in the annual performance results due to concerns about data quality. These issues were only identified after submission of the SEN2 data to Department of Education much earlier in the year. We are currently implementing a robust monitoring framework based on electronic records to embed improvements in reporting.”
This is despite this statutory reporting process being in place for several years. Recording a start date and an end date, and calculating whether it is more or less than 26 weeks is not difficult. This is a weak excuse and just suggests that someone is trying to obscure the real situation.
The official Department of Education statistics show, for the 2014 calendar year, that the performance had deteriorated significantly – only 39% of the statements were issued within the required 26 weeks ( compared to the target of 85%). The preceding year it was 75% – much lower than the Council was declaring to Derby residents. No wonder it was left blank on the annual report.
I asked why there was such a deterioration in performance from 2013 to 2014. The Council responded:
Derby City Council’s SEN Assessment Team co-ordinates the assessments from a range of stakeholders such as schools, health practitioners and parents/carers. The SEN Assessment Team was undergoing a significant change in capacity during this period and we do not retain historical reasons.
In effect they are saying “ We don’t know why it has deteriorated so badly, and we lost control of the system” – this is unacceptable on such a priority subject. Without knowing the results, and why they had problems, then there is no way improvements can be made!
I asked the Council, ‘what was the average length of time taken to produce a statement?’. The Council confirmed that it was 37.5 weeks, which means that many took substantially longer than this ; by implication, many would be at least twice the statutory requirement. So some children would have been waiting for a year or more for a statement that should take a maximum of 26 weeks!
From September 2014 the SEN statement was replaced by an Education, Care, and Health Plan (ECHP). For those children with an existing SEN statement there is a legal requirement to transfer them to an ECHP over a period of 3 years. Derby City Council set out a plan which would ensure that all 1133 children would be ‘converted ‘ by March 2017. For the first year, in 2014/15 the plan was for 425 transfers to be achieved. The actual outturn was 211- just under 50% success. Although the Council maintain that they will continue to be on target for the 2016/17 completion a new plan is being re-issued in December 2015 to catch back the significant shortfall.
Since September 2014, there have been 306 requests for new ECHP’s across Derby City, only 25 have actually been completed and zero were within the statutory ECHP 20 week timescale. A familiar story – the failing performance continues.
Something is not functioning effectively within Special Educational Needs within Derby and no amount of excuses can mitigate a statutory duty, when other authorities are operating satisfactorily. On top of this the Council has created further uncertainty and fragility by giving notice to many Teaching Assistants who support SEN children that their pay will be cut. This will inevitably lead to experienced people leaving the profession over the next 6-12 months which will exacerbate the overall problem.
The delays in issuing SEN statements / ECHP’s manifests itself in much anxiety and frustration for both the parents and the children involved. It can mean that the children miss out on critical schooling, and attention, which will impede their progress. The reason for the delays may be many and varied but one which, anecdotally, is recognised by some parents is the fundamental lack of places available within the City.
This extract from a letter sent by a desperate parent to the Chief Executive of Derby City Council sums up the consequences of the failings described above. This is not unique.
My child [name withheld]is still being taught one to one in a cloakroom! He will not be participating in Christmas plays or eating a Christmas dinner with other children, he will not be singing Christmas carols in the school hall like all his peers because the reason he is at a personal workstation in a cloakroom is because the staff cannot reduce his anxiety enough to be in a room with lots of children or neither in a small class of only 18 children and 3 Teaching Assistants and a teacher on a full time basis, this is neither an acceptable nor an inclusive environment. He STILL has NO Statement naming suitable provision or the provision to meet his Special Educational Needs. We have been told the named provision of The Phoneix suite for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), on site at Brackensdale Junior ER school is oversubscribed there is no provision.
After looking into provision and options within Derby City I am very concerned about not only my child but other children within the City of Derby. I would like you to tell me how many children there are within our City with a diagnosis of ASD that are currently waiting for placements? how many children are currently home schooled and have a diagnosis of ASD? and how many children are not in education with a diagnosis of ASD? I would also like to know how many children in the city have a diagnosis of ASD ?and how many Enhanced Resource Placements there are in both ERF and ERFU separately ? and also how many places are available in ASD specialist schools within the City please.
I must make you aware that after a year of unsuitable provision in which my child ended up in hospital, having to keep him out of education for a period and now having my child kept in a cloakroom since September, the case is now being investigated by the Local Government Ombudsman.
This was met with a bland response, apologies and excuses. The detailed questions were not answered and were diverted to a Freedom of Information request.
Parents, and children, are looking for positive action to improve the situation not insipid, and limp replies that don’t manage their expectations. The slow “car crash” around the pay cuts for Teaching Assistants, which will conflate this problem, is highlighting a lack of coherence in the Council’s thinking as they seem to be fumbling from one botched-up policy implementation to another. Each child has only one opportunity to get a proper education – the Council apologising and promising to get it right next time is not acceptable for the child whom they have failed!
Categories: Derby City Council