Sheffield City Council and Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) have published an action plan that sets out how they will address a range of issues affecting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
These issues were identified by inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission when they inspected Sheffield back in November 2018. In their inspection report, the inspectors highlighted seven areas of significant weakness:
- No co-produced SEND strategy for the city
- Issues with communication between local authority leaders, parents and children
- Poor strategic oversight of SEND arrangements by the CCG
- Weaknesses in commissioning arrangements
- Issues with the quality and timeliness of EHC plans
- Inconsistencies in identifying, assessing and meeting the needs of learners with SEND in mainstream schools
- Issues with transition arrangements
The inspectors told Sheffield City Council and the CCG to produce a “Written Statement of Action” (an action plan), setting out how these issues would be addressed, and by when. This action plan has just been approved by the inspectors, and you can download it from the council website. Advisors from the Department for Education and NHS England will now carry out regular monitoring visits to check on progress. In addition, Sheffield will receive another visit from the inspectors within 18 months, probably around October 2020.
Read a briefing note published by Sheffield City Council and Sheffield CCG.
What we think about the action plan
We attended several meetings where the written statement of action was discussed, and commented extensively on a draft version. We are pleased to see that quite a few of the improvements we suggested have been included in the final document.
Throughout the action plan, there is now a strong emphasis on working with families to improve services, and on providing them with better information. We welcome these commitments.
However, for many of the actions, the devil is in the detail. For example, the action plan says that waiting times for CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) support will be reduced to national waiting time standards. But what if waiting times go down because GPs refer fewer children, or because more referrals are rejected, or because children are moved from one waiting list to another? We will only know that the figures improve for the right reasons if our children receive the support they need in a timely manner.
It is helpful that the action plan includes several key statistics from our State of Sheffield survey as baseline data against which to measure progress. This should help to ensure that the local authority and the CCG measure success by real, tangible improvements on the ground – not just the fact that an action has been done, or that a box has been ticked. However, this only applies to some of the actions in the plan.
It is important to bear in mind that the written statement of action only addresses the areas of weakness highlighted by the inspectors; that is what a written statement of action is supposed to do, and that is what the inspectors will look at when they carry out a re-visit in 18 months’ time. However, our survey found a range of other issues, not mentioned in the inspection report, that also need addressing. For example, the inspectors mentioned long waiting times for CAMHS, but there are many other therapy services – like Occupational Therapy, or Speech and Language Therapy – that are equally overstretched and under-resourced.
These other issues should be addressed through the new SEND strategy and action plan that the local authority and the CCG want to develop over the next few months. It is fair to say that we have seen many SEND strategies come and go over the years, which haven’t made much of a difference on the ground. Whilst we acknowledge the effect that austerity has had, it is essential that children, young people and parents are genuinely involved in creating this new strategy from the start, to ensure that it really does have an impact. We hope that this happens, and we are keen to be involved.