Cornwall's services for children with special educational needs are criticised
By Lee Trewhela LDRS Reporter
10th May 2023 | Local News
Cornwall's provision for children with special educational needs has been criticised as leading to "inconsistent experiences and outcomes" with some children not getting support when they most need it. Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) came to the conclusion following an inspection of services in Cornwall earlier this year.
A report into the services on offer in the county stated: "The local area partnership's arrangements lead to inconsistent experiences and outcomes for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). The local area partnership must work jointly to make improvements."
Cornwall Council and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Integrated Care Board (ICB) are responsible for commissioning and planning the services for children and young people in need of extra educational support. The Cornwall Local Area Partnership obtained the middle outcome on the scale.
The Government watchdogs commended Cornwall partners for their work supporting Early Years and post-16 children and young people with SEND, and other areas of the service, but there were several criticisms.
The inspection found that many children and young people with SEND have their initial needs assessed in a timely way. However, delays in the annual review process for Education Health and Care (EHC) plans are too frequent. This results in plans not fully reflecting the changing needs of children and young people. Leaders are improving oversight in this area, but this needs accelerating, said inspectors.
Leaders have not done enough to ensure that practitioners working in education, health, and social care are clear about their accountabilities and responsibilities. There is variability in practice. Some professionals do not have the necessary awareness and knowledge to secure what is available for children and young people with SEND.
This leads to insufficient and unclear access to support and guidance and misunderstanding from families and practitioners of how placements in alternative provision are commissioned.
Waiting times to access services, such as child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), have been reduced significantly. Although some children and young people still wait too long for speech and language therapy, those waiting are now reviewed on a regular basis. However, this is not the case for children and young people accessing neuro-developmental pathways, where progress in reducing the wait time for assessments has not been as successful.
As a result, some children and young people are "not able to access support when they most need it".
The inspection found that some children and young people with SEND waiting for a specialist placement are not in education that best meets their needs and are not receiving the specialist help they need. Leaders recognise that there is a regional and national shortage of specialist education places. This is further complicated in Cornwall due to the geographical size of the local area, its rurality and the high contrast between different localities in the area.
Permanent exclusion rates for children and young people with SEND are high. Partnership leaders are taking action to address all of these issues, for example through strengthening the "area resource base provisions" and inclusion in mainstream schools. However, these actions have not yet brought about the improvement required.
The majority of children and young people with SEND who live in Cornwall and need residential care are supported well to stay in the local area. Consequently, only a few children and young people with SEND are in residential placements outside Cornwall.
Leaders have assured themselves of the welfare of those children living outside of Cornwall in residential settings through the completion of comprehensive quality and safety assessments. Children and young people have had mixed experiences of short break support within the local area. However, leaders have effectively tackled issues around staffing and an increase in demand for short breaks.
The inspectors, who visited in February, found that some families and professionals are currently not always clear about "what the local area are working to improve".
Among the positive findings in the inspection report are:
Younger children and their families have a "positive experience of the early years support and guidance available to them", thanks to an effective multi-agency approach.
The majority of young adults benefit from "effective support which prepares them well to gain from adult education and health services".
Children and young people with SEND are "supported well by health services in Cornwall".
Young people with SEND receive "appropriate assessment of their needs, aspirations, and capacity before and into adulthood to ensure they receive the right support to promote their welfare".
Children and young people with SEND and their families are engaged in improving services and support, with the help of Parent Carers Cornwall. "Leaders have developed roles for children and young people to be advocates and mentors for other children and young people with SEND to ensure their voices are heard."
Multi-disciplinary teams, which include health, social care, police, and education, "work effectively to address the diverse needs of children and young people with SEND within smaller areas of Cornwall".
Partnership leaders have welcomed the findings of the report and pledged to work on the areas the inspectors say need improving and build on the positive outcomes already being achieved for young people with SEND and their families.
Kay Henry, strategic lead at Parent Carers Cornwall, said: "As the nationally recognised parent carer forum for Cornwall, we felt children, young people, and parents were listened to during the inspection. There have been inconsistent experiences for school-age children and young people in Cornwall, we are pleased this has been recognised throughout the inspection. We welcome the recommendations that have been put in place from Ofsted and CQC and are aware following the inspection, work to improve areas has already started to progress."
Kate Evan-Hughes, service director for education and community health at Cornwall Council, said: "We recognise that there is always more that can be done to ensure the quality of service is consistent across all areas and ages and we are already working together with our partners and school leaders to address the 'areas for improvement' identified in the report. The improvement plan will be overseen by the 'One Vision' board and we look forward to updating SEND children and families on our progress in the near future."
Cllr Barbara Ellenbroek, Cabinet member for children and families, learning and skills, added: "It is one of the council's priorities to make sure Cornwall is a brilliant place to be a child and grow up, so it is vital that all young people with SEND and their families have access to the best services, support, healthcare and education.
"We are already working hard to address any inconsistencies in our offer, and I am confident that the experiences of all children and young people with SEND in Cornwall will continue to improve going forward. I would like to thank everyone who participated in the inspection and all our partners who work tirelessly to improve the lives of children and families in Cornwall."
Kate Shields, chief executive of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Integrated Care System, said: "We welcome the findings of this inspection, which recognises the positive changes colleagues across our multi-agency partnership have made to improve access to services for children and young people with additional needs and disabilities.
"We know there is more work to be done, and we are committed to working closely with our families to ensure they are listened to and that we continue to improve and deliver the best possible outcomes for our children and young people."