Oxfordshire local area partnership commits to significant improvements for children with special educational needs and disabilities
Oxfordshire’s local area partnership (LAP) apologises to families and has committed to significant change to improve support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) following an inspection of services by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission in July.
The inspection formed part of a new national framework of inspections for children and young people with SEND introduced in 2023. Inspectors identified that there are widespread systemic failings across the local area partnership leading to significant concerns about the experiences and outcomes of children and young people with SEND, which must be urgently addressed.
The LAP is made up of Oxfordshire County Council and NHS Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West (BOB) Integrated Care Board (ICB) who are jointly responsible for the planning and commissioning of services (across education, health and social care) for children and young people with SEND in Oxfordshire. The partnership also includes Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Areas identified for improvement include:
- Agencies within the local area partnership need to work cohesively to ensure that children and young people get the right help at the right time.
- Too many children and young people are unable to access the education provision they need; and while many schools prioritise transition work, when there are delays to decision making and naming suitable placements, this work is undone.
- The inspection recognised that the timeliness of education, health and care plans has recently improved, but frequently they do not describe the child or young person accurately enough to ensure that their needs are met effectively.
Since Ofsted’s inspection, the partnership has identified it is building the right relationships together that will be needed to drive significant improvement to services. The LAP will revisit its strategic vision and ensure it has a clear plan with deliverable priorities. It will do this by engaging with parents, carers, their children and young people with SEND and supporting organisations. It will also work together on the development of an action plan to address the specific concerns raised as part of the inspection.
The LAP recognises the importance of meeting the needs of children and young people at the earliest opportunity. For those where an education, health and care (EHC) plan is required, the county council will continue to build extra capacity in the SEND team to keep improving the timeliness of EHC plans¹.
In addition, to ensure there is continual dialogue with families, children and young people and professionals, the partnership will hold a variety of mid-term information gathering and sharing sessions (online and in-person), including in educational settings, to gather feedback. This will be supported by existing meetings with the parent carer forum and other parent and carer support groups.
Inspectors acknowledged a number of strengths in the provision of services and support including:
- All agencies involved with looked after children with SEND have a sharp focus on working together to help them to achieve ambitious outcomes and many young people aged 18 - 25 who are known to adult social care, receive effective assessment and intervention to meet their needs.
- Where there is strong practitioner knowledge and expertise, children and young people benefit from cohesive, proactive planning for their needs. For example, from the early help service and the learning disabilities child and adolescent mental health services team. Where children and young people receive support within specialist statutory teams, for example the children’s disability team, they receive timely assessment and appropriate advice to meet their needs. Here, practitioners effectively assess, review and support children and young people to achieve positive outcomes and experiences. For these children and young people, their transitions are well organised.
- Early years practitioners get useful training and advice from the early years SEN inclusion team. They use the early years SEND toolkit to produce ‘support and outcomes plans’ that outline children’s needs and personalised outcomes clearly.
Inspectors also referenced that recently appointed area leaders recognise the significant weaknesses of the current system and acknowledge the wide-ranging concerns found during the inspection.
At Oxfordshire County Council, recent changes to leadership posts include Martin Reeves, Chief Executive and Stephen Chandler, Interim Executive Director, People, Transformation and Performance. Recruitment for a permanent director of children services is underway. Anne Coyle is currently in post as the Interim Director of Children’s Services. The ICB has also appointed Nick Broughton as its Interim Chief Executive. All area leads take joint responsibility for the delivery of improvements across the partnership.
Stephen Chandler, Oxfordshire County Council’s Interim Executive Director, People, Transformation and Performance, said: “I am so sorry we have let families down. We fully and unequivocally accept the findings of this report. We must and will do better together as a partnership.
“We are urgently focusing our efforts to address the concerns raised. To do this, we want to develop a joint action plan together with parents and carers of young people with SEND as well as with other support and advocacy organisations.
“We also want to build on the strengths identified in the inspection, which we cannot do without our teams of dedicated professionals who continue to be committed to improving the experiences of children and young people with SEND.
“We care deeply about improving the lives of children and young people and supporting them, along with their families, to thrive. We are determined to make significant changes so we can provide families with a better quality of service at the time they need it most.”
Councillor Liz Leffman, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, added: “I am so very sorry and disappointed we have not been delivering SEND services across the partnership to the standard children and young people need and deserve.
“We are listening and we will act urgently to deliver significant improvements. I am confident that recent and ongoing appointments in senior roles will give us the necessary drive and focus to do this.”
Rachael Corser, NHS Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West ICB’s Chief Nursing Officer, said: “We’re sorry that our Oxfordshire SEND services have not met the high standards which our young people need and deserve. And we understand the frustration of parents, carers and families in Oxfordshire over the delays and confusion they face when trying to get help for their children.
“As health and care partners, we’re committed to building on the good work already being done in Oxfordshire, which the report acknowledges, and to make rapid progress in improving everything that must be done much better.
“We pledge to work closely with our young people and their families to make sure they get the support they need to thrive.”
Grant Macdonald, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust’s Interim Chief Executive, said: “We are sorry that services for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities have not met the standards they and their parents and carers deserve. We will ensure that we play a full role in the partnership’s response, alongside parents and carers of young people with SEND, to ensure the quality of service meets the required high standard.”
Dr Anny Sykes, Oxfordshire University Hospitals’ Interim Chief Medical Officer, said: “As a provider of acute hospital services for children living in Oxfordshire, we are committed to working closely with colleagues at Oxfordshire County Council, BOB ICB and Oxford Health to tackle the areas for priority action related to health, identified by the inspection in July, so that all children and young people with SEND have high quality care in our hospitals. We will all work closely with these children and young people, and their families so that we hear their voices clearly and reflect their views in the plans for improvement.”
Jules Francis-Sinclair and Stephanie Harrison, Oxfordshire Parent Carers Forum (OxPCF) Co-Chairs, said: “OxPCF recognises the systemic failings identified in the inspection of local statutory services and has worked hard to share the views of local parents and carers about SEND services across the county. We share the frustration of local families about the consistent and repeated lack of action, duty and care in many areas.
“We are pleased that some areas of good practice have been identified by the inspectors and look forward to working with the new leadership team to build on these to address the issues raised.
“We reiterate our commitment to providing a channel for the voice of local families and hope that the findings of this inspection will lead to much needed improvements in SEND services and outcomes for children and young people across Oxfordshire.”
The full report is available on Ofsted’s website.
¹ As of July 2023, in Oxfordshire 43 per cent of assessments were being processed within statutory timeframes. The current national average as reported by the DfE in the January 2023 SEN2 data return is 50.7 per cent.
- In January 2023, there were approximately 23,000 children and young people with SEND in Oxfordshire (SEN2 Jan 23 census and Jan 2023 school census data published by the Department for Education). This included 5,427 with an education, health and care (EHC) plan in the age bracket 0 - 25. The total number of EHC plans that Oxfordshire maintains is increasing month on month, in line with regional and national trends and now exceeds 6,000.
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