Child with hand up in a classroom
Child with hand up in a classroom

Please forgive the longer-than-usual read, but this is a very important, under-reported topic, affecting thousands of children in Kent.

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This week on 28th March, following a recent inspection, OFSTED and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) jointly published a report which has been highly critical of Kent County Council’s provision of resources and care for children with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND). The council have been given 70 days to provide a Written Statement of Action to both OFSTED and the CQC detailing what they are going to do to turn around this failing situation.

No teacher working in Kent, nor parent in this county who has a child with SEND, will be surprised by the findings of the report. This Kent County Council service has been failing families for far too long.

You can read the full report here, but some of the most shocking observations in the report state that:

Not all schools and settings in Kent are willing to accommodate children and young people with SEND. Schools are underfunded and KCC’s system of SEND funding only may have led to off-rolling, or refusal from some schools to accept disabled or SEND children onto their registers in the first place. How is this fair? How is this a system that county leaders are proud of?

What should happen?

  1. Children with diagnosed SEND should be significantly prioritised in admissions, effectively guaranteeing their or their parents’ first choice of setting and county funding should always be found to ensure first-choice schools are given the resources they need to always Arbitration panels for SEND admissions should exist beyond county structures and be commissioned by the Department for Education.
  2. The county must ensure that all schools meet their statutory duties with regards to admissions.
  3. Off-rolling must be tackled by central government to ensure that any student accepted in year 7, has their final year 11 outcomes included in final publication or tabling of results, unless they are accepted into another full-time, education setting.

Many EHC plans in Kent are nowhere near up-to-date and provision for these children and young people is woefully inadequate, often relying on information years (sometimes, according to the report, decades) old.

What should happen?

  1. Kent County Council must address the huge shortfall in county-employed Educational Psychologists. They should be employed by the county, not by an ALMO (Arm’s Length Management Organisation).
  2. EHC’s must be reviewed annually. The DfE should set targets of ‘90% EHC annual review completion’ and be prepared to put into special measures, providing resources and advice for councils that fail to meet their targets. Kent currently has 600 young people retaining EHC plans that are no longer valid; they must publish exactly how this backlog will be address and by when.

Health Services (including midwives, community nurses and health visitors) for under-5s must find and develop a more steam-lined way of identifying and alerting the county to pre-primary aged children with SEND.

 What should happen?

  1. Children’s needs will be met earlier if they are identified earlier and admitting schools are given fair opportunity to bid for funds and resources to cope with admissions that present greater logistical difficulties. Again, if SEND is truly prioritised within the admissions process, with guarantee of first-choice school selection, then parents will be less reluctant to seek diagnosis of SEND at an early stage.
  2. CCGs must stop ‘impeding the effective provision of needs-led services’. The current structure of ridiculous quangos and complicated health commissioning services across Kent is failing children with SEND and means that their needs are not being met effectively. Central government must reassess their current programme of partitioned, disjointed, local commissioning, whereby leaders of these quangos collect huge salaries and service provision is consistently driven down. CCGs are completely failing to provide effective oversight of children and young people’s health provision when more than one services is involved.

Kent County Council and other providers are overseeing completely unacceptable waiting times for key children and young people’s health services in Kent. Speech and Language Therapy waits from referral to first appointment in Kent are 12 months on average; ASD and ADHD assessments are two years from referral to first appointment; some young people have been waiting over a year for a suitably-fitting wheelchair and CAMHS (for mental health support) referral to first appointment time is also over a year in some parts of Kent.

What should happen?

  1. These services are under-funded. It really is that simple. This current government has strangled funding for our health services, mental health support and other key agencies. When contracts are commissioned for other services, such as wheelchair provision, who is really ensuring that targets are met? Private companies bidding for contracts are making money off the back of providing sub-standard services. There must be an end to private contracts within our health services. It does not increase competition, it always drives down standards.

The points I’ve drawn out in this article are part of a much longer report, which highlights many areas for criticism. It is clear that parents and carers must have a much stronger role in reviewing and designing services for children and young people with SEND here in Kent. The County and indeed the DfE, under a Tory-austerity-squeeze-the-vulnerable government have much to be ashamed of here and this report is welcome; it highlights just how dire service provision is in Kent. I just hope our counties leaders are really willing to act to get something done.

 

 

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