KCC Special Education Needs Services: “don’t care” and “are incompetent’
In March 2019, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Ofsted produced a damming report on Kent Council’s, Special Education Needs & Disability service.
At that time, Matt Dunkley was the Corporate Officer responsible for the service, and the Cabinet Member with responsibility was Cllr Roger Gough.
On Wednesday 9 Nov, 2022, the CQC and Ofsted, released another critical report of the state of affairs with the same service. Now Cllr Roger Gough is the leader of KCC and Matt Dunkley has left the building.
One notes the Leader of Kent County Council (KCC) and the Chief Nurse of the NHS in Kent and Medway have issued a heartfelt apology after a critical report into how the local area – KCC, NHS Kent and Medway and local schools and other settings – provide support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in the county.
Regardless of the apology the SEND service; which is on its knees continues to fail to provide the services to the most vulnerable children in the County.
The 2022 report is not comfortable reading for those charged with responsibility for SEND at KCC. It makes it very clear “the area has not made sufficient progress in addressing any of the significant weaknesses“. To repeat, insufficient progress in ANY of the significant weaknesses identified three years ago. And indeed, a scrutiny of the report shows no progress whatever in some areas and a decline in others.
The Report concludes: ‘As none of the significant weaknesses have improved, it is for DfE and NHS England to determine the next steps. This may include the Secretary of State using his powers of intervention. Ofsted and CQC will not carry out any further revisit unless directed to do so by the Secretary of State’. This surely means that the Government will take a level of control over Kent’s Special Needs Provision, which cannot be any worse than the current situation.
The report is a massive indictment of the whole leadership of those concerned with supporting some of the most vulnerable children in the county, also including the failure of Matt Dunkley, CBE, the unlamented and recently departed KCC Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education.
Tragically, the disgraceful conclusion reached by the CQC & Ofsted will come as no surprise to anyone suffering the appalling failures of Kent’s SEND Department, whose Assistant Director in charge of the Department in 2019 was Mark Walker (pictured), and so responsible for the Ofsted debacle of that year. He was then amazingly promoted to be Director of Special Education Needs and Disabilities for Kent and given additional responsibilities.
In an interview with a Bureau Local journalists he stated that in 2020/21, 96% of all SEND Tribunals were decided in favour of the family. He used these figures rather than KCCs figures, to spin the line the Tribunal is biased in favour of parents. Not only is this a slur on the Tribunals, Mr Walker wanted to give the impressions families always get what they want.
However, when one delves into KCCs SEND Tribunal figures for the same year (2020/21), they paint a very different picture. In Kent 394 appeals were registered, but only 266 cases were pursued. Just 9% (24) of these reached the Tribunal. Of the cases decided 55% (11) were decided in outright favour of the family.
Education, Health and Care Plans
Several families who have taken the county to Tribunal to appeal against not being offered an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP) or its inadequacy to deal with their cases, have been met with incompetent KCC representatives. There has been a rapid turnover of staff, who know little about their briefs, and in one case at least, KCC were actually barred from presenting their case because of the low level of expertise and preparedness shown. It would be unbelievable except that it has happened.
Only approximately half of annual review meetings happen on time. Many parents and carers and school leaders are disheartened and frustrated by the review process. They told inspectors of plans that are years out of date. When annual review meetings are held, only 50% of EHC plans are updated promptly.
School leaders explained the negative impact this has on children’s provision. School leaders also spoke about the negative impact on 11 children and young people because of the lack of attendance of health professionals at annual review meetings. Around half of all parents and carers who participated in the inspection consider that neither their views nor their child’s views are well represented on EHC plans and annual reviews. The same proportion consider that their child’s EHC plan is not sufficiently reflective of need. For example, parents reported concerns about plans with missing health information. Inspectors heard a number of allegations from parents and school leaders of purposeful misrepresentation and falsification of views and plans. Numerous accounts were heard from parents and carers and school leaders asserting that new plans do not reflect current needs, in part due to rushed or weak assessment processes. For example, school leaders believe that online assessments are not always used appropriately or effectively. Consequently, written reports are considered inaccurate and unhelpful and cause difficulty in obtaining the correct support.
As one can see from the graph below, the numbers of Children needing EHCPs has grown three fold over the last ten years. This has put enormous budgetary pressures on Kent, so much this led to a deficit of £102m in 2021/22. This was the highest deficit of any Council who has SEND responsibilities
Let’s not forget that in Feb 2022, there was a failure to get SEND children to school. The SEND-Transport-Lessons-Learnt-Review focused on 11 areas which included the impact on children and families; the communication with parents and carers about the changes; how decisions were made; the processes that were followed; governance arrangements and the communication between the departments responsible. This was a case of closing the stable door after the horse had bolted.
Then in August 2022 KCC spread misinformation around the the legal costs for defending EHCPs at Tribunals.
What is clear is the management of this whole department has failed long before the first critical report in 2019.
The Report begins with an absolutely shocking indictment of the service.
A widely held concern of parents that the local area is not able, or in some cases not willing, to meet their children’s needs.
Parental confidence in the local area’s ability to meet their children’s needs is at an all-time low.
In September 2022, almost two thousand parents took the time to share their views with inspectors. Representing the views of many, one aggrieved parent stated:
‘Communication is poor; co-production is non-existent… It feels as though my son’s needs are not being prioritised, and they don’t care. They are incompetent.’
Three quarters of parents who completed Ofsted’s inspection survey said that they do not feel supported by the local area in identifying and providing the right help and support for their child with SEND. Desperate and dispirited parents repeatedly told inspectors about their experiences, particularly of poor communication.
Parents do not feel that there is accountability in the area’s SEND systems. Several parents and some headteachers commented on ‘insensitive’ and ‘unhelpful’ communication from leaders which made parents feel they were being blamed for the ‘cost’ of having a child or young person with SEND. This messaging appears to have reinforced the idea in parents’ minds that schools may not routinely help their children with SEND. It is parents’ widely held belief that an EHCP is essential to ensure their child’s needs are met. Several commented that the only way to get action was through a direct appeal to their local member of parliament.
Requests for assessment, appeals to tribunal and demand for special school and independent special school places have continued to increase. The Kent area now has a 20% higher rate of children and young people on EHC Plans than the England average. There is significant, widespread concern from parents. These concerns include a lack of access to, and availability of, services such as speech and language therapy and the educational psychology service. A lack of help for children and young people with anxiety and social, emotional and mental health needs was also frequently commented on. The length of wait for diagnoses and the length of time taken for EHC plans at several stages of the process also causes extreme frustration. Almost three quarters of parents who took part in the survey said that their views were not heard or acted on, and over half said that they do not feel involved in making decisions about their child. Half of parents who contributed to the inspection consider that their children’s views are not represented well, and a similar proportion feel that the plans do not reflect need. The same proportion believe that their child’s needs are not met well within their current setting.
A few other quotes:
Many schools welcome children with SEND and ensure that they receive a high quality of education and care. These schools typically engage well with the local authority and attend training and update events relating to SEND. Some schools offer a warm welcome to children with SEND and their families, but participate less in locally offered training or networking events. Other schools neither participate in opportunities to share and learn from good practice nor overtly welcome children with SEND. This wide variation leads to uncertainty and dissatisfaction among area leaders, school leaders and families alike. Typically, those schools ‘known’ to be inclusive admit more children with SEND, and this results in increased pressure on finite resources. School leaders assert that local authority systems to date have failed to address the unequal admission of children with SEND across the local area and across school types
The inclusive quality of provision in Kent’s schools remains hugely variable. Some school leaders, heavily involved and engaged in trying to shift the culture of inclusion, state that it has regressed since the previous inspection. Young people with SEND spoke articulately to inspectors about a lack of understanding of their needs from staff at schools or colleges they have attended.
Leadership and governance of SEND in the Kent area is weak.
Repeated changes in staffing at all levels across the organisation, internal restructuring, the array of projects and plans at different stages of construction, reconstruction or implementation, a major lack of communication and the impact of the COVID pandemic all combine to generate the current sense of chaos and uncertainty. There is no commonly understood, or agreed, area-wide ambition for children and young people with SEND.
There is an absence of shared strategy and planning to secure essential improvements. There is an unacceptably weak understanding, across the range of stakeholders, including those who are charged with delivering and managing provisions and services, of the gravity of the unsustainable position that the Kent area is in.
Dissatisfaction with provision for children and young people with SEND in Kent remains widespread, despite the local area spending more per child or young person than anywhere else in the country. The newly appointed Director of Children’s Services has rapidly assessed the current situation. She understands the enormity of the task ahead.
Minutes indicate that the SEND Improvement Board meeting is used to share information and not to offer scrutiny, challenge or to hold leaders to account. Some very sensible, positive suggestions, including that it would be pertinent to have an agreed assessment of the current position, have not been followed through. Minutes are weak and do not provide an informative record.
Little evidence was established during the inspection to indicate that leaders had planned or implemented systems for identifying children and young people adversely affected by previous weaknesses in provision. Consequently, little has been done to enable such children and young people to catch up and secure improved outcomes. The strategy for children and young people with SEND details the ‘Children and Young People’s Outcomes framework’ as a way to measure progress against wider outcomes. Monitoring against this framework is through surveys by different agencies. However, area SEND leaders have not analysed or evaluated any of this 15 work. Consequently, there is a lack of oversight and knowledge of code of practice outcomes and wider outcomes.
the long waiting times from referral to treatment for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs, identified in the 2019 inspection, have not improved for some parts of Kent. In these areas, there is fragmented provision due to capacity issues within the speech and language therapy workforce. This means that not all children are seen within reasonable timescales. Parents repeatedly spoke or wrote about the lack of available services, including speech and language therapy and the educational psychologist service. Over half of those who responded to the parent survey, who have had access to local area services, such as CAMHS, autism spectrum disorder services, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder services, wheelchair services and early help, say they do not feel supported promptly or effectively. Some special school leaders also spoke with frustration regarding the
length of time that children and young people have to wait for health equipment. Extremely long waiting times are leading some schools and families to buy private assessments or counselling sessions. Families, schools and local area leaders spoke about this as deepening the inequality of opportunity for children and young people in Kent as many families cannot afford to do this.
Finally there are some areas of good practice and improvement identified in the report. Also, we make no criticism of many of those working tirelessly on the front line delivering for these children, trying to make up for the deficiencies of those above them. Then there is the self-inflicted handicap of a large turnover of staff at all levels, noted in the Report, appalled at the conditions under which they are working and difficult to replace because of KCC’s very poor reputation in the service.
Frankly, the whole service needs a root and branch re-organisation, and the appointment of a government commissioner with the power to force change appears to be the best chance for children in Kent who have Special Education Needs and Disabilities, to have a future.
Hat Tip – Peter Reed
The Shepway Vox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful
According to an automated email reply I received this afternoon, Mark Walker has “now left KCC. For any urgent queries please contact Julia.Smitti2@kent.gov.uk “