- Outcomes framework agreed by members and providers to measure progress
- Peer network created to enable information sharing between boroughs
The South London Commissioning programme aims to deliver high-quality services for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) at the most efficient cost.
The sub-regional framework, which comprises 10 south London boroughs, was set up specifically in 2014 in response to rising demand for SEND services.
The boroughs involved - Croydon, Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Merton, Sutton, Wandsworth, Lewisham, Kingston and Richmond - were seeing the number of SEN statements increase year on year.
The number of education, health and care plans issued for these areas in 2014 was 12,208 which increased to 16,262 in 2018.
"The challenges were also about being a big enough player in what can be a really complex market," explains Jenny Wade, head of commissioning and procurement at Croydon which is the lead borough for the programme.
"We are working in markets where demand for a particular type of placement outstrips supply so working in a regional group gives us a greater kind of market power," she says.
Wade believes it was vital the programme looked at achieving value for money without compromising the quality of the services.
"In fact we wanted to see the quality improve as much as we wanted the costs to come down," she adds.
Wade says there are two strands to the programme - one which caters for SEND placements specifically in the independent sector - and another, still in the project phase, for looked-after children which covers foster or residential care provision.
In addition to those areas involved in the SEND framework, Southwark and Lambeth are among eight boroughs involved in the care project.
With a current collective spend of £75m on SEND services - and £85m for children in care - Wade says the budget pressures mean there has "never been a time we've needed to work together more".
She says each of the boroughs involved in the programme strive to ensure placements are provided that meet the needs of their young people and to understand how these have changed over time.
"With SEND services, more and more children are surviving with significant medical intervention in ways that they wouldn't have done previously.
"We've also seen more complex young people come through our looked-after children population," she explains.
The programme has produced a number of key benefits for the boroughs involved: it has created a "really useful network of peers" which has allowed for information sharing on issues around SEND services.
Wade says increased value is also being achieved by the programme through an agreed outcomes framework which tracks the progress of the children and young people.
"That's as important for the providers as it is for us as a region because we want to make sure we aim to benchmark - we want to identify where we have really strong providers and those working with particular needs," says Wade.
One of the programme's strengths is its centralised data processes that allow boroughs to better understand the quality of each provider and how well each young person - across SEND services and care provision - is progressing, she adds.
Despite differences in the needs of children and young people across boroughs, Wade says working collectively has outweighed any of the challenges faced by framework members.
"We might have slightly different cohorts or a particular child with a specific need which can mean that we are looking for different things.
"It could even be perceived that we are in competition for places but really the fact we are working together and we share the interests of our young people shows that isn't the case," she says.
Since the programme began, Wade says a collective saving of almost £2m has been made.
However, figures for children in care will not be available until the project is fully implemented. "By January , we will have a couple of months under new commissioning arrangements for looked-after children which will give us meaningful data around cost savings. We can then start to see some green shoots on the quality improvement," says Wade.
Data gathered in September 2017 on the impact that a dynamic purchasing system (DPS) had made on the SEND programme showed that the 10 boroughs had commissioned 367 new non-maintained or independent school placements since June 2016 at a cost of £11.8m. The DPS reduced transaction costs by around 11 per cent through consolidating registration, accreditation and enrolment of suppliers.
Further benefits associated with commissioning new placements via the DPS are likely to bring more savings to the boroughs due to better use of staff time and increased capacity.
Click here to read more in the Commissioning Children's Services Special Report