Under a system of inspections introduced in 2016, the education watchdog Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission have so far visited 68 local areas to assess whether they meet the needs of those aged 0 to 25 with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).
Inspectors said they had “serious concerns” in 30 cases (44% of those examined), requiring those areas to produce a written statement of action to detail how they would address “significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice”.
“Since Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) began SEND inspections more than two years ago, we have shone a spotlight on strong and weak SEND practice across education, health and social care,” the spokesperson said.
“The fact that we have identified significant concerns in so many areas shows there is still some way to go until children and young people’s special educational needs are being met.”
More than 1.2 million school pupils (about 15% of all those in England) have SEND, according to Department for Education figures. Earlier this week, a Guardian investigation found that demand for specialist support was soaring and threatening to bankrupt cash-strapped local authorities.
The Children and Families Act 2014 placed new duties on the local health, social and education services to identify and meet the needs of those with SEND who were under 26. In response, a programme of 152 inspections of services in local areas was established to assess how well they were preparing children to live as independently as possible and secure meaningful employment when they left education.
The first inspections took place in May 2016 and will conclude in 2021. Ofsted said they tried to ensure a spread across the country when choosing which areas should be inspected in a given year.
Birmingham, the biggest local authority area in the country, was one of the 30 areas to be highlighted so far as failing to meet the needs of young people with SEND. In the inspection report, published in September, the area was criticised for “a lack of strategic and coordinated leadership”.
“Pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities make weak academic progress, attend less often and are excluded more frequently than other pupils in Birmingham and all pupils nationally,” the report said.
“Not enough young people who have SEN and/or disabilities are entering employment or supported employment. The proportion of adults with learning disabilities in paid employment is below the national average.”
A joint statement from the council and the Birmingham and Solihull clinical commissioning group said they were disappointed by the findings, but fully accepted them.
“We are absolutely clear that services need to improve significantly, and rapidly, so that children and young people in Birmingham have their needs met and are properly supported; this is to ensure that they can achieve their full academic potential and can lead fulfilling lives.”
Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said years of “brutal Tory cuts to services” were taking their toll on those who most needed support. “When the government’s own inspectors say that the most vulnerable children are being let down and deserve a better deal it is clear that there is a serious problem,” she said.
Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, saidthat while the inspections had uncovered a high rate of failure, they were also pushing local areas to improve provision.
“Forty-four percent failure is not a good thing and I would far rather families were getting decent services, but I absolutely believe that the inspections are a force for good,” she said. “They shine a spotlight on provision for children who have always been marginalised.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to make sure that the quality of SEND services are high, to ensure young people with SEND go as far in life as possible. That is why we introduced a new inspection framework in 2016 to assist local areas in improving their services.
Source: The Guardian