Special Educational Needs

Creative Scrutiny Board recommendations on Special Educational Needs summarily dismissed by Cabinet.

At the Executive Scrutiny Board last night ( 9th October), one of the many subjects on the agenda was “Improving Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Provision in Derby”.  A comprehensive document which has been subject to a full consultation resulting in 425 responses. An evolution in the way placements will be configured across schools, and funding allocated – all within the context of no reduction  in funding.

The Executive Scrutiny Board is a cross party committee that meets the day before the Cabinet meeting. It scrutinises the full agenda, by questioning the relevant Council Officers. The Board can make recommendations for consideration by the Cabinet which they can choose to accept, reject, or note.

The Board was joined by Chris Merrick, Chair of Governors at Central Derby Nursery ( via Skype) who represented the Early Years concerns. There was considerable informed discussion and questioning from Cllr Sarah Russell ( Cabinet Member for Education in the previous administration), Cllr Lisa Eldret ( previous Chair of the Children and Young People Board), Cllr Stephen Willoughby ( who is a parent of children with Special Education Needs).

The conclusion was a number of recommendations, that were passed by an overwhelming majority of the Board.

  1. Recognise the vital importance of early years intervention;
  2. Recommend that Council Cabinet should not decommission enhanced resource places at Central and Lord Street nurseries, but should instead formalise the commissioning of those places at early years including supporting SEND children;
  3. Recommend that Council Cabinet should ensure there is an assessment unit to lead and inform early years intervention;
  4. Recommend that Council Cabinet should ensure clarity of pupil pathways from early years to primary places;
  5. Recommend that Council Cabinet should increase resource and provide funding for Central and Lord Street nurseries to enable them to become centres of excellence that can provide support for other settings, to promote inclusion;
  6. Recommend that Council Cabinet should increase resource and provide funding for Brackensdale Infant School to enable it to become a centre of excellence that can provide support for other settings, to promote inclusion; and
  7. Recommend to Council Cabinet that any monies saved from the proposals should be reinvested in SEND provision and made available citywide to enhance resource.

At the Cabinet meeting tonight, the key elements of the discussion underpinning the recommendations were presented by Cllr Lisa Eldret.

Cllr Evonne Williams ( Cabinet Member for Children and Young People) addressed each of the recommendations. The first one was accepted, 2-6 were rejected, and number 7, noted.

Cllr Nicola Roustone ( Cabinet member Finance, who has children with Special Educational Needs) made an impassioned speech as a confirmed critic of much of the SEND processes in the Council. She has experienced much frustration, first hand,  over the years and sees the need for change. She expressed her clear support for the tabled strategy. She accepted that there had to be compromises given a finite budget.

Comment

The changes proposed in the report were detailed, comprehensive, and complex; the recommendations very considered and well-supported. There seemed to be a good prospect that Cabinet would take on some/all of the ideas – however this did not happen.

The broad philosophy of the report being scrutinised was to spread the funding and the available teaching expertise more widely across the City, and to promote as much inclusion as possible. The Scrutiny Board recommendations sought to try and preserve some areas of expertise to ensure islands of specialism.

It is a moot point as to which would work best. Listening to some teaching professionals and parents their view would be the latter – but this is clearly not a binary viewpoint, or decision.

Cllr Williams committed that the strategy would be reviewed on a much more frequent basis ( annually) as the demographics of the children in the system will change, some aspects of the approach may not work well etc.

From a governance and procedural perspective, the output from the previous night’s lengthy Scrutiny Board meeting was dismissed within a few minutes. It felt as if no recommendations of any consequence would have been adopted. Under the proposed committee system then, a result based on a broader consensus would have been more likely.

Whilst the formal democratic processes have been followed, to the letter, it feels as though the broader spirit of democracy was missing.

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