Hartlepool SEND provision faces DfE intervention

By Gabriella Jozwiak

| 14 March 2019

Hartlepool is facing Department for Education intervention in its special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) services, after inspectors found ongoing "serious weaknesses".

Ofsted inspectors found leaders at Hartlepool Borough Council and the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group had failed to make progress in areas of concern identified following a 2016 inspection. Picture: Google

In the second ever case of a referral of SEND services to the Secretary of State, after Suffolk which was published earlier this month, Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Ofsted inspectors found local area leaders at the council and the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, had failed to make progress in two out of four areas of concern.

These were identified following an inspection in October 2016.

Among concerns raised in a recent letter to Hartlepool Borough Council's director of children's and joint commissioning services Sally Robinson, is that education, health and care (EHC) outcomes are "neither measurable nor meaningful for too many children, young people and families".

The report of a three-day visit which took place in January, concludes: "As leaders of the local area have not made sufficient progress against all the weaknesses identified in the written statement, it is for the DfE and NHS England to decide the next steps.

"This may include the Secretary of State using his powers of intervention. Ofsted and CQC will not carry out any further revisits unless directed to do so by the Secretary of State."

A written statement of action was required by inspectors in 2016, after weaknesses in monitoring and evaluation were found, with staff failing to complete EHC plans within the 20-week timescale.

While there have been improvements since then, including a significant rise in the proportion of EHC plans being completed within the time required, key inconsistencies remain in the timeliness and effectiveness of the local area's arrangements for identifying and assessing children and young people's special educational needs and, or, disabilities.

Local area leaders are not systematically checking assessments, leading to provision being "too variable", and outcomes set out in the plans are unhelpful to many children and young people who depend on them.

"Governance of the local area's response to this significant weakness has not had the focus and urgency needed to keep the partnership's actions on track," the report states.

The inspectorates also found the authority had made little progress in improving joint commissioning of services for SEND children.

They blamed this failure on local leaders lacking detailed understanding of the needs of young people with SEND and their families, and on leaders failing to systematically check if services were working together effectively.

"Current improvement plans and governance arrangements are not providing the focus and urgency needed to achieve improvement in joint commissioning at a suitably fast pace," the letter said.

However, the inspectors did credit the council for providing clearer and timelier information, advice and support to young people and families through a parent and carer forum.

They said this work had enabled the council to improve some individual specialist services for SEND children.

The quality of professional advice provided by some health practitioners, such as speech and language therapists, has also improved.
 
The council said it was "continuing to work very hard" to address concerns.
 
The spokesman added: "We are absolutely committed to providing the best possible support to our children and young people with SEND and to that end we will not rest until we have addressed all the points raised by HM Inspector."

A DfE spokesperson said: "We are pleased that Hartlepool has taken positive steps to address some of its current areas of weakness, and expect this to be the first step towards sustained and continuing improvement.
 
"We are considering the findings of this report carefully and will respond shortly about how we will be working with Hartlepool to agree the next steps for achieving our ambition."

Earlier this month,

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