Families 'left reeling and in tears' over findings of report on special educational needs and disability services for children in Warwickshire

Warwickshire County Council says the joint Ofsted and Care Quality Commission report 'highlights several aspects of good practice alongside areas where improvements need to be made'

The backpack protest at Shire Hall in Warwick against what some parents and carers have described as a "crisis" in SEND services in Warwickshire. Photo by Geoff Ousbey.

Campaigners have said that families of disabled children in Warwickshire 'were left reeling and in tears' after the findings of an inspection for special educational needs (SEND) were released yesterday (Thursday September 23).

But Warwickshire County Council (WCC), the services provider, has welcomed the report saying it 'highlights several aspects of good practice alongside areas where improvements need to be made'.

The independent report by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, which took place from July 12 to 16, raised concerns about waiting times and child placements, among other things, and WCC has been asked to provide a written statement of action to Ofsted to explain how the local area will tackle the areas of weakness.

The backpack protest at Shire Hall in Warwick against what some parents and carers have described as a "crisis" in SEND services in Warwickshire. Photo by Geoff Ousbey.

Lobby group SEND Crisis Warwickshire has said the the inspection raises 'significant concerns about the effectiveness of the local area'.

The report has raised the following concerns:

- Waiting times for autism spectrum disorder assessments, and weaknesses in the support for children and young people awaiting assessment and following diagnosis of ASD.

- 'Fractured relationships with parents and carers' and 'lack of clear communication and co-production at a strategic level'.

The backpack protest at Shire Hall in Warwick against what some parents and carers have described as a "crisis" in SEND services in Warwickshire. Photo by Geoff Ousbey.

- The incorrect placement of some children and young people with EHC plans in specialist settings, and mainstream school leaders' understanding of why this needs to be addressed.

- The lack of uptake of staff training for mainstream primary and secondary school staff to help them understand and meet the needs of children and young people with SEND.

- The quality of the online local offer.

But the report did also highlight positives aspects, such as:

- Children and young people with SEND achieve positive educational outcomes. A high proportion of them remain in education, training and employment and a high proportion also go on to achieve paid employment. Attendance rates for children and young people with SEND are very positive, and fixed term exclusions have reduced dramatically.

- Area leaders understand the strengths and weaknesses of the area because of their accurate, well-informed and detailed self-evaluation. They commissioned two independent reviews of all SEND services to help them identify what works well and what does not across the local area. Leaders have developed and started to implement an ambitious Change Programme in response to the findings of the reviews.

Cllr Jeff Morgan, Warwickshire County Council's portfolio holder for education and children’s services said: “As a local area, we are determined and focused to implement our plans to meet the needs of all children and young people with SEND.

"I am pleased that the inspectors have recognised the commitment of the leadership in Warwickshire and have confirmed that we have the right plan in place with the Send and Inclusion Change Programme.

"However, we recognise that there is more work to be done and we know there are several areas where we need to do better and improve the services, we provide.

“As with many places in the country, we have been asked to produce a written statement of action to outline how those improvements will be made. The statement will be drafted in the next few weeks with input from our colleagues in education, health, social care, Warwickshire Parent Carer Voice and other key stakeholders.

"Our action plan will be robust, and we will work with rigour and pace to ensure changes are made to help us to improve and enhance the SEND offer in Warwickshire.

"SEND is a key priority and the work we have done as part of our SEND and Inclusion Change Programme has been acknowledged as the right plan addressing the key issues to ensure changes are made.

"Our ambitious plans to improve outcomes for children and young people with SEND including building a new school and resource provisions, providing clear pathways of support, reforming our decision-making panels and ensuring our systems are sustainable into the future will help us to make a real change to the way in which support children and young people with SEND in Warwickshire.”

Warwickshire authorities must now provide a written statement of action to Ofsted which explains how the local area will tackle the areas of weakness.

A spokesperson for SEND Crisis Warwickshire said: "As a parent and carer-led group, we are pleased that a written statement of action has been ordered.

"However, we are gravely concerned that the report's findings are not reflective of the lived experiences of many Warwickshire children and young people and their families.

"The report doesn't even skim the surface of the trauma caused and does nothing to repair the broken trust parents have in Warwickshire’s present provision or give them confidence for the future.

"In the last two days alone, we have supported families with suicidal children that still have no support, families whose children have been given inappropriate school placements that don't meet their needs and families whose children have been left without appropriate education for years and years, not months.

"Poor communication is only part of the problem.

"There is much to do, and we hope this report will herald an end to Warwickshire County Council's behind closed door mentality and place the welfare, wellbeing and education of Warwickshire's vulnerable children, young people and their families truly at the centre of all they do, by placing those with lived experience at all levels of co-production, including at board level".

The group has said: "The silent protest represented the voices of children with SEND who have been left for years without support.

"Sadly, it seems that yet again their messages haven't been adequately heard."

Dr Sarah Raistrick, a local GP and the chairwoman of Coventry and Warwickshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Ensuring that all children and young people in Coventry and Warwickshire with SEND are able to access the support that they need is a priority for the CCG.

"This report recognises that we are not where we need to be as a system, but that we have the plans in place which will help us to deliver better care, whether it is to provide additional support for those waiting for a diagnosis or those receiving support already.

"We are committed to working in partnership with Warwickshire County Council to implement these plans and to make sure that we improve things for our local children, young people and their families.”

The county council has said: "Changes are already underway in Warwickshire to help to improve outcomes for children and young people with SEND".

"This includes the SEND and Inclusion Change Programme; a three-year programme that aims to ensure that every young person with SEND has the knowledge, skills and qualifications they need to lead happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

"In addition, the Child Friendly Warwickshire programme was given the green light by Warwickshire County Council’s Cabinet in March 2021 and forms part of a wider £12 million programme of change in the way the Children’s and Families Services work in the county."

Cllr John Holland, the leader of the Labour Group at Warwickshire County Council, is supporting SEND Crisis Warwickhshire.

He said: “ All parents care passionately about their children.

"Some parents need additional support which should provided by the county council.

"It is clear from this inspection report that the proper support has not been provided.

"Many parents have told me that the service has been inadequate. Parents need practical help. Full credit to the staff as they have been doing their best.

"The problem has been has simply not been good enough.

"This inspection report clears the air.

"The council is required to produce an action plan and I hope that we can move forward from here.

"The action plan will require proper funding but the important thing is that the service actually meets the needs of the children.”

A spokesperson for the Warwickshire Liberal Democrats said: "The release of the joint inspection carried out on SEND services is clear Warwickshire could be doing a lot better. To those who know the services the report has no surprise. The question that needs to asked now is how the county council will react to the findings.

"The Liberal Democrats will measure the progress on the findings in the report and will check it against the coproduction of service provision with honest genuine working together, shining a light on decisions enabling greater transparency on every decision with added greater democratic accountability."

Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western said: “Warwickshire County Council has known this damning verdict was coming for a long time.

“The criticisms in the report will come as no surprise to councillors and certainly no surprise to the Warwickshire parents, carers and children who face a battle every day to manage with inadequate and poorly funded provision.

“We know children with autism and ADHD in particular face unforgivably long waits to be assessed in the county - which prevents too many children getting the care they need.

“The lack of consultation and involvement of SEND groups and parent forums in the area remains a major weakness.

“They have real expertise gained from lived experience of dealing with complex needs - and they must be involved in solving the problems with provision.

“Support needs to be given to mainstream and special schools to ensure no child is misunderstood, mistreated or excluded – and parents, carers and children must be listened to, provided with information and taken seriously in order to rebuild trust.

“I completely understand how many of them will feel this report and its demands do not go far enough – and do not reflect the abandonment of parents, carers and children in Warwickshire.

“Council leaders should be apologising, as many parents and carers feel they have been gaslighted about their concerns - and this is not acceptable.

“The recommendations must be seen as building blocks to what needs to be a better service across the board.”

Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western said: “Warwickshire County Council has known this damning verdict was coming for a long time.

“The criticisms in the report will come as no surprise to councillors and certainly no surprise to the Warwickshire parents, carers and children who face a battle every day to manage with inadequate and poorly funded provision.

“We know children with autism and ADHD in particular face unforgivably long waits to be assessed in the county - which prevents too many children getting the care they need.

“The lack of consultation and involvement of SEND groups and parent forums in the area remains a major weakness.

“They have real expertise gained from lived experience of dealing with complex needs - and they must be involved in solving the problems with provision.

“Support needs to be given to mainstream and special schools to ensure no child is misunderstood, mistreated or excluded – and parents, carers and children must be listened to, provided with information and taken seriously in order to rebuild trust.

“I completely understand how many of them will feel this report and its demands do not go far enough – and do not reflect the abandonment of parents, carers and children in Warwickshire.

“Council leaders should be apologising, as many parents and carers feel they have been gaslighted about their concerns - and this is not acceptable.

“The recommendations must be seen as building blocks to what needs to be a better service across the board.”

To read the full report, click here.