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Published on Wednesday 15 May 2024

Improvements to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council’s Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) service are gathering pace, a council report has revealed.

The report, which goes before the Council’s Cabinet later this month, states “good progress is being made over the last six months and the system is improving at speed”.

A plan to improve the SEND service has seen a reduction in wating times for children’s education and health care plan assessments (EHCPs) the report reveals.

Detailing the progress of the SEND improvement plan, the report explains how governance has been strengthened and has delivered greater engagement with carers, teachers and other key partners in the SEND system.

As a result, young people in BCP Children’s Services this academic year are no longer experiencing significant delays to the initial assessment and creation of their EHCPs as the council has addressed the backlog of cases in this area.

Over the past year, the SEND service has seen significant improvements in overall performance:

  • 96% of requests for education and health assessments are considered within six weeks, and 67% of subsequent assessments are meeting the 20-week deadline. This compares to 26% and 0% respectively in March 2023.  
  • 92% of education psychology assessments have been undertaken, compared to 0% in March 2023
  • The service’s backlog of annual reviews has decreased by nearly 50% and is on course to be eliminated by the end of term

The development and delivery of the SEND improvement plan follows the Department for Education (DfE) issuing the service with a statutory direction, whereby the government instructs organisations to make improvements.

The Statutory Direction called on all SEND partners including BCP Council, NHS Dorset, schools, colleges, multi-academy trusts, early years settings, and parent and carer groups to work together at pace to improve services.

The Cabinet report confirms that a number of these improvements are now being delivered, thanks in part to the SEND Improvement plan.

This plan is built around eight priority areas. It focuses on ensuring key improvements in the system are identified and delivered, as well as making sure that all actions are integrated to support the wider system and provide a sustainable future.

The priority areas are leadership management and governance, co-production and communication, early identification and intervention, inclusion, pathway, sufficiency of places, preparation for adulthood and managing resources. Each priority area has actions with agency and service leads being responsible for their delivery.

Additionally, a new SEND Improvement Board was established in the autumn last year and is chaired by John Coughlan, DfE Advisor to BCP Council. The Board ensures that there is both independent challenge and support to partners across the BCP area.

As part of improved governance, a new SEND partnership scorecard was created, which is updated monthly and is subject to scrutiny at the improvement board by the Chair. This ensures that there is full transparency and accountability in place to measure progress and see the impact of the improvement actions.

Safety Valve

The report also updates BCP Council’s ongoing conversations with the DfE regarding the Safety Valve programme – an initiative to help local authorities tackle overspending on SEND services.

Last summer BCP Council was invited to become part of the programme to help manage and reduce the deficit in its Dedicated School’s Grant (DSG) budget.

The DfE recently confirmed that they could not enter into a Safety Valve agreement with BCP Council at this current time. The rejection followed a specific proposal from BCP Council which would balance its DSG deficit within 15 years.

The DfE decision does not mean BCP Council has been removed from the Safety Valve programme. Discussions are still ongoing with DfE and Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities (DLUHC) and as such a revised DSG plan has not yet started.

The DfE recently confirmed that the council’s bid for investment to help BCP pupils with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) needs was successful. 

This means that a new free special school for approximately 180 pupils, aged between three and 19 years and who experience ASC, is expected to be built in Bournemouth within the next two years. 

This project is just one part of a programme of initiatives planned by the council that recognises increasing demand and will improve access to more quality special school places.

The report also details that as part of the council’s commitment to specialist provision, conversations with the DfE are continuing around a separate application for c£5m capital funding to support the creation of a further specialist SEND provision for BCP’s children and young people.

Cllr Richard Burton, Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People, said: “Improving the quality of our SEND provision for all those who rely on this hugely important service remains an absolute priority for this administration. It is reassuring and pleasing to see that the hard work and focus of the team is starting to pay off.

“We are definitely making improvements and moving in the right direction, but, we know this is a long journey and there is still a huge amount of work yet to done.”

Cathi Hadley, BCP Council Corporate Director of Children’s Services, said: “The hard work and efforts of staff should be acknowledged and celebrated. We are proud of the progress made so far and the positive impact this is having on our children and young people. But I know that there is much more work to be done before SEND services reach the standard we need them to be.

“There has been an absolute focus on improving the delays experienced by our children and these have both been improved and sustained at significant pace since September of last year.

“No child has experienced any significant delay in receiving a needs assessment service in this academic year and we have now addressed the significant backlog. We accept that this was not satisfactory, and controls are now in place to ensure that this does not happen again.”

The report goes before BCP Council’s Cabinet on May 22 and is available to view here.

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