Essex Family Forum Statement on the Essex Local Area Written Statement of Action in relation to Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

Following the Local Area OFSTED/CQC SEND Inspection which took place between 30th September and 4th October 2019, the Inspectors produced their Report (published on 23rd December 2019) which highlighted three areas of significant weakness. These weaknesses were:

1) The potential over-identification of children and young people with Moderate Learning Difficulties and the need to understand the reasons behind this and the accuracy of the identification figures.

2) The quality of EHC Plans – with particular concern around securing the right advice and providing the right information within the plans to enable high-quality outcomes for children and young people. This led to Inspectors concluding that the strategic oversight of plans is not effective.

3) There is poor joint commissioning of services between the Local Authority and their health colleagues in the various NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

After the report was published, the Local Authority (LA) and the CCGs had to produce a “Written Statement of Action” to outline how they intend to address these weaknesses and the timescales within which they will do so. This Action Plan has now been submitted to and approved by the Inspectors. The LA and the CCGs will be subject to regular monitoring visits from the Department for Education and NHS England, and a re-inspection would normally take place in 18 months’ time. However, the current COVID-19 situation will have a sizeable impact on the timescales, not least because the LA’s Education & Social Care teams and NHS staff are having to divert their central focus on managing the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable families (which includes those families with children who have Special Educational Needs & Disabilities.)

Our view of the Action Plan

In our view, the fact that both Essex County Council and the CCGs fully accepted the findings of the Inspector’s report is a major step forward and shows a realistic understanding of the challenges to be overcome to improving the lived experiences of SEND families in Essex. Since the publication of the Inspectors’ report we have attended the majority of the meetings that have taken place to discuss the Written Statement of Action and have provided comprehensive comments and feedback on the various draft versions of the plan, the majority of which are reflected in the final Plan.

It is important to note that a Written Statement of Action is only intended to respond to the significant areas of weakness that were identified within the Inspectors Report and will not address the many other issues that families are aware of. Indeed, the EWMHS service was identified as an area of strength by the Inspectors and whilst it may be true that “the service is starting to make a difference to the support available to parents and carers and their children” – we, as the Parent Carer Forum, are fully aware that there are a significant number of children and young people who are unable to access the full EWMHS service due to their SEND needs, in particular those with ASD and related conditions who are frequently discharged at triage as they do not fit the service criteria or would be unable to access the therapies offered under the current EWMHS contract. The current contract was in force before Essex Family Forum was established, but we are engaged in the procurement process for the renewal of the contract and are advocating for an improved service remit to ensure that therapies are available/suitable for all children.
We are of the opinion that addressing areas of weakness for the accurate identification of needs and improving the quality of EHC Plans will, although a huge undertaking, be more straightforward than aligning the joint commissioning arrangements across Essex, which require a real (and novel) collaborative approach from all services and providers.
The new SEND Strategy will be developed from the Action Plan which we do acknowledge outlines an ambitious approach to addressing the areas of weakness and beyond. There is considerable data already available to the LA and the CCGs that will be acting as the baseline for measuring the impact of the changes/improvements; the 2019 POET Survey, our Essex Family Forum engagement workshops 2019 and the High Needs Block survey 2018.
A SEND Improvement Board has been established to ensure that the Action Plan will be implemented in full and oversee the workstreams that have been established. We are pleased to report that we are a participating member of this Board and will be representing the parent voice at a number of the workstreams with purpose of ensuring that the experiences of families will be maintained as a primary focus.
In addition, one of our main roles within the action plan will be to gather feedback from families, at regular intervals, on the difference that the changes being made are having so that success in addressing the weaknesses is measured by an actual improvement to the experience of families rather than just ticking a box that an action has been completed.

Obviously, we do not know exactly what the long-term impact of the current COVID-19 situation will have and in some respects the timing is less than ideal in terms of propelling the Action Plan forward. However, a positive to be taken from the current, unprecedented, circumstances is the adaptation of working practices (such as the increase in “virtual” meetings) which may benefit us all in the longer term.

To view the full Written Statement of Action – click here

To view Essex Family Forum’s statement on the Inspector’s Report – click here