Agenda item

SEND Services Update Report

Minutes:

5.1 Kirsten Harrison, Director of Education, presented this report. She explained that the government had made announcements around Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) services on the 2nd of March 2023 and that these were not included on the report due to the short notice. The officer explained that SEND was a broad system which spread across a number of services and that the SEND improvement plan published by the government still required further detail. The officer highlighted data in the report that outlined a 61% increase in demand on SEND in Gloucestershire. She also highlighted that a Gloucestershire SEND inspection was due imminently. She also explained that new schools were being opened to meet the SEND demand, and the Early Years Assessment Centre pilot had opened to support mainstream schools to take on SEND students and to support parents of SEND students to feel comfortable with mainstream schools. Serious concern was raised over the resources available for high needs SEND children particularly given two bids made recently for special school build projects were unsuccessful.

5.2 A member raised concern over a recent report that pre-school care was around £15,000 annually which might prevent people from wanting to get back to work. The member asked whether there were sufficient free spaces for SEND pre-school care. The officer explained that they were working very hard to ensure place sufficiency and it was being maintained but there was some difficulty maintaining staff. The service would ideally have a range of provision options to meet the needs of families with different requirements but certain provisions, like child minders, were decreasing. Nurseries were having to step in in such cases, but they might not be the ideal care provider in those cases, and it was becoming more expensive to provide pre-school care.

5.3 A member noted that a significant number of children were awaiting assessments. The officer explained that there had been a rise in direct demand from parents for assessments without the support of the school and this was contributing to the longer list of children awaiting assessments. The officer stressed that there is often a parental perception that specialist support is required when young people’s outcomes are typically better in the mainstream school system. A shortage in educational psychological expertise was also slowing down assessments.

5.4 The officer also explained that they had been successful with an MTFS bid which would support taking on more staff to help ease caseload pressure, but this wouldn’t solve the wider issue of a lack of high-level expertise. It was also suggested that reviewing recruiting practices would help make sure the right people are getting hired.

5.5 In response to a question about the new dual-system that was being implemented in April for all Education Health and Care Plan students (EHCPs) and Special School Students, the officer explained that the new system had been co-developed with schools and that two rounds of piloting with different schools had successfully demonstrated that the new system was better for schools and parents. It was also explained that funding for schools that take on EHCPs would be the same. The model that the County currently used for funding rewarded schools that hosted a higher number of EHCPs and that continuing to do this in the same way would cost an extra £5million. This process is not statutorily required and Local Authorities that did not use this model would not incur that extra cost so it did need to be considered carefully. The officer highlighted that the current SEND arrangements were incurring an annual deficit that had been growing for years.

5.6 A member asked if more Special Schools beyond Sladewood were being introduced and noted that parents will be more likely to ask for their children to be cared for in Special Schools if there are more spaces. The officer agreed with the member but explained that there were 130 children who had been assessed as requiring a place in a Special School that there was no more space for so there was a need to develop more schools. She also explained that they had received around £14million capital funding around Special Education needs but that this alone was not enough to fund a single school.

5.7 A related point about inclusion was raised and the officer explained that the County could and should be more inclusive by supporting parents and mainstream schools to be confident in the support that can be provided to SEND students. This could be achieved through additional teacher training, as well as pooling expertise across nearby schools.

5.8 The officer also explained that it was likely that a number of SEND students who were home schooled were there because they did not feel the mainstream school could support them rather than actively wanting to be home schooled.

5.9 It was suggested that the work being done on home schooling be brought to the committee at a future date.

ACTION – A report on SEND and home schooling to be added to the work plan.

5.10 Phil Robinson, Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Bus Transport, highlighted that the Department for Education SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan, published on the 2nd March 2023, represented a greater focus on SEND that has been long overdue. There would be the development of national standards as well as a national SEND implementation board and this would bring greater clarity about when specialist placements were appropriate, what mainstream schools were expected to offer for SEND students, and funding bands.

5.11 The chair recommended a SEND review agenda item in the future to bring to Committee how these new updates have affected SEND in Gloucestershire

ACTION – DSU to add a SEND review for the long-term work plan.

5.12 In response to a question about how many SEND children were refusing to go to school, the officer estimated that around 30, of the roughly 1300 home-schooled children, might have an EHCP.

5.13 It was explained to members that whilst it appeared schools were being paid more this year, due to rising costs of running the school, pay rises, and reductions in SEND benefits, most schools were posting deficits. Early intervention and prevention were highlighted as key areas to focus on to properly support children and families with significant needs whilst also minimising costs.

5.14 A member asked what avenues had been explored to help recruit specialist staff such as educational psychologists. It was explained that this specifically was a specialist field with high academic barriers and only certain universities offered educational psychologist courses. Work was already being done to work with universities to present Gloucestershire as an employer of choice. The Principal Educational Psychologist was working hard to bolster recruiting and GCC officers were being approached by other Local Authorities for help because of GCC’s success in this area. The Social Worker Academy would ideally offer training for other roles that sat within Children’s services but was in its early stages. It was also proposed that the Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Bus Transport might want to consider sponsoring people to complete educational psychology courses. It was doctoral level training which would be expensive, but so too was the current reliance on locum support.

5.15 Concern was raised over how the SEND support and process was explained and advertised to the public, particularly with the changes going on. It was explained that if a student is already on the assessment process, they carried on with existing processes. The changes were only relevant to new EHCPs. The relevant websites were constantly being reviewed and updated and the user portal had been made more user friendly. Communications were a work in progress, but they were getting better.

5.16 It was highlighted that beyond communications, SEND was an area that needed significant work and there was concern that the local area SEND inspection would not be favourable when it came. Part of the difficulty came from needing more support from health to deliver a sufficient service and there was acute concern around the SEND budget deficit.

5.17 The Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Transport, expressed a willingness to lobby central government for more funding further down the road once they had been able to take stock of the recent changes and announcements. He also explained that being unsuccessful with both bids for funding for new schools was a surprise and that now was the time to take stock and adjust without that money in hand.

ACTION – DSU to add placeholders for a report on the imminent local area SEND inspection to the Work Plan.

 

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