AN OFSTED inspection into the special needs provision across Wokingham borough has uncovered ‘significant concerns’ and said that many areas of the council’s work has been ‘poor’.
The results were published online on Monday, highlighting many areas that Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission found during an investigation which took place in March.
“The inspection raises significant concerns about the effectiveness of [Wokingham Borough Council],” the report notes.
The council now has to provide a written statement of action that will explain how it will tackle six areas of concern.
They include explaining why there has been a “lack of a clearly communicated co-produced strategy and accompanying action plans that are shared and understood across education, health and care in the local area and sharply focused on improving the outcomes of children and young people with SEND” and “the lack of well-coordinated and effectively joined-up work across education, health and social care”.
The 12-page report said that “Strategic leadership of SEND in the local authority has been weak.
“There have been frequent changes of senior leaders over the last two-and-a-half years. Consequently, the development and delivery of a comprehensive and ambitious strategy to improve outcomes for children and young people with SEND has stalled.”
It adds: “New leaders, appointed in the last few months, have made a positive start and are bringing much-needed stability to leadership.”
Ofsted inspectors felt that there was too much of a focus on education rather than including health and care. “It does not effectively set out a clear enough plan for the improvements needed across education, health and care in a coherent joined-up approach.”
Other issues raised include the number of children and young people who have to attend a school or college outside of the borough. “The proportion of children educated in non-maintained and independent schools is higher than that seen nationally and is increasing. Consequently, there is significant pressure on limited resources within Wokingham.”
The pressures on the borough’s schools – including staff shortages, and health and care needs assessments – is also raised, meaning that plans drawn up to help children are “generally weak”.
“Inspectors saw many examples of EHC plans that included poorly defined outcomes which have not been developed in an appropriately personal way,” the report notes.
The findings have caused concern from some charities.
Martin Thacker, deputy director at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “Wokingham Borough Council has a legal duty to support children with special educational needs and disabilities, but this inspection shows that the system in place just isn’t up to scratch.
“Clear areas for improvement have been identified and all eyes are now on the council’s leaders to see how they will start delivering for every child in their care.
“With the right support, children with special needs and disabilities can fulfil their incredible potential and achieve well at school. The council must now give them all that chance to shine.”
Wokingham Borough Council said that the report was disappointing but also gave opportunities for its team to make enhancements to its approaches.
Due to the local elections in which the leader, Julian McGhee-Sumner, lost his seat, roles within the Executive (leadership) may change this week, but in a statement the current executive member for children’s services, Cllr Pauline Helliar-Symons, said: “The Wokingham Children and Young People Partnership Board is committed to making positive progress in its work, and a great deal is already being done to address the issues raised in the Inspection Report.
“The Board’s action plan and strategy are being reviewed to incorporate feedback from service users and their families.
“The inspection recognised there was good commitment and improving leadership in developing a fit for purpose service for vulnerable children and their families, and that this needs to continue.
“There were areas of our work the inspectors highlighted as working well – the use of health data and feedback from service users to improve outcomes for children and young people. We’re now building on this, working with partners from Education and Social Care to establish more coordinated service planning and improvements.
“The Inspectors also commented on some of our excellent local provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities and during the course of the SEND Inspection visited both Addington School, a Local Authority maintained school and The Bridges Resource Centre both are judged as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted,
“Work is also being done to improve arrangements for children moving from Children’s to Adult Services and the Partnership Board is looking at implementing a more efficient and robust way of Health, Education and Social Care agencies working together.
“The report is disappointing; however, it provides an opportunity for all agencies to work together to improve services.
“We are all highly committed to providing the best we can for children and families living in Wokingham Borough.”
The report can be read in full at https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/provider/44/80582