An Ofsted and Care Quality Commission letter has shown improvements in Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) services in Somerset. Inspectors carried out a re-visit of the SEND Local Area Partnership (Somerset County Council, NHS Somerset and schools) in late 2022, and released their letter, detailing progress to the Partnership on Wednesday 1 February.
The re-visit focused on whether sufficient progress had been made to address each of the nine areas of significant weakness detailed in the initial inspection letter published in May 2020.
Inspectors agreed that seven out of the nine former areas of significant weakness have improved:
- Our focus on the experiences of children and young people with SEND and their families when formulating strategies to improve the area.
- Our leadership capacity across area services.
- Our partnership working between services across education, health and care.
- The Somerset autism assessment pathway.
- The quality of our education, health and care (EHC) plans.
- The timeliness of assessment, writing and publication of education, health and care plans.
- Joint commissioning arrangements that limited our leaders’ ability to meet area needs, improve outcomes and achieve cost efficiencies.
The Inspectors noted that Somerset’s SEND leaders had improved how they work together and had acted to ensure that parents were included in the development of services. Children have benefited from recent improvements such as the development of new specialist schools and bases within schools.
Cllr Tessa Munt Executive Member for Children and Families said:
One of our top priorities in Somerset is to make sure all children and young people get the right start. We are pleased that the re-visit letter recognised many of the improvements to SEND services in Somerset. We fully accept and welcome the findings. I know that things have not always been good enough, and I am sorry about that. I am passionate and committed to seeing the necessary changes through.
While we are pleased with our progress, we know some families may not have seen the impact of this yet. I regularly listen to families and understand they face a lot of challenges. I will not be complacent and I know there is still a lot of work to do.
I am pleased to hear the Inspectors recognised that Somerset’s services are starting to work together in a better way to help children with SEND and their families. I will make sure that you see further improvements in every area.
Jonathan Higman, Chief Executive, NHS Somerset added:
I am proud of the work that our teams from across the Partnership have done over the past few years. We have been, and are determined to listen to children, young people, and their families to understand the issues facing them and to consider how we can improve the support they receive.
I was particularly pleased to see inspectors recognise the improvements made in relation to our Autism Assessment Pathway, but also appreciate that there is still more we can do to improve processes and approach so we can continue to support our children, young people, and their families on their journey.
Of course while it has been pleasing to read the letter recognising the improvements which have been made so far, we know we have to continue to improve for the benefit of children and families in Somerset.
Two areas of weakness remain and the Somerset Local Area Partnership will make it a priority to improve these services for children:
- Too many children and young people not accessing education because of the disproportionate use of exclusion and poor inclusive practices across the area.
- Poor assessment and meeting of need caused by inconsistent practice leading to poor outcomes for children and young people with SEND.
The Partnership acknowledges that some children with SEND still face difficulties with accessing education with the right support to help them learn and reach their full potential.
In an open letter to parent carers, Claire Winter, Acting Director of Childrens Services and Jonathan Higman, Chief Executive for NHS Somerset expressed their commitment to making change happen.
The partnership’s new SEND strategy will be published in the spring, the draft plan can be read online.
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