New SEND plan offers fresh hope

County Hall, Maidstone

Plans to improve special educational needs and disability (SEND) services in Kent are finally moving ahead. The welcome announcement that Kent County Council (KCC) has filled 80 much-needed roles in its SEND services has come in conjunction with news that a new plan outlining changes necessary to support young people with SEND has been given the official go-ahead.

The Accelerated Progress Plan (APP) has been agreed by the Department for Education (DfE) and NHS England. The APP plans to tackle nine key areas of weakness outlined by Ofsted last year, while building long-term improvements into SEND provision.

Among its goals, the new plan seeks to address the widely held view among parents that some secondary schools are “not inclusive” and unwilling to accommodate children with SEND.

Another target identified is for 80 per cent of pupils with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) to be placed in mainstream schools by December this year. Key performance indicators require that 80 per cent of EHCPs are issued within the 20-week legal time frame. In June, this was just 13.2 per cent.

KCC has long been accused of not caring for children with special educational needs. In January 2019, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission found “significant weaknesses” in Kent’s special educational needs provision and reported that parents lacked confidence in the services.

Last year, KCC bosses were forced to apologise to parents after Ofsted found that there had been insufficient improvements to the poor progress, poor standards and inconsistencies in educational health care that had been previously noted.

In March this year, the Council was put on formal notice to improve. With that, KCC risked losing control of special education needs and disability services unless it improved its ability and willingness to meet children’s needs, and for schools to accept SEND students.

The Government then agreed to give Kent a £140million bailout to pay off an overspend on these services. In return, however, the budget needed to be balanced by 2027. The new APP is the Council’s response.

The APP will undergo an initial review towards the end of this year, when the DfE and NHS England will assess whether those measures put in place are working for children and their parents or carers.

Rory Love, KCC’s Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, has been leading the work needed on behalf of KCC to make the improvements with partners in health and education over the past seven months.

He said: “During the past seven months we have restructured our teams to give more focus to customer service.

“We have recruited permanent staff, reducing vacancies so far from 100 down to 20. We have been learning from other councils to understand how they provide their services successfully.

“I am determined that we deliver the actions in our improvement plan to provide the quality services children, young people and their families have a right to expect from us,” Mr Love explained.

“Their views and experiences will continue to shape our improvements and they will be the judge of how we are doing in the months ahead as the impact of these improvements start to make a difference.”

Mike Walters, Chair of the Kent Association of Headteachers (KAH), told the Times: “KAH has been pleased to have representatives on the SEND Assurance and Improvement Board, and on a range of other working groups. The APP was co-constructed by colleagues from KCC, Education and Health. The APP is ambitious and illustrates a collective commitment to improve provision and outcomes for children with SEND in Kent.”

Jane O’Rourke, Director of Children’s Services at NHS Kent and Medway, also added: “We have a really important role in education, health and care plans, ensuring that health clinicians have input into those plans and are providing the right clinical advice for those plans to ensure that children get the right support when they need it.”

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