Damning inspection finds 'significant weakness' in Slough SEND services

Damning inspection finds 'significant weakness' in Slough SEND services

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A damning report has found 'significant areas of weakness' in services provided to children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Slough. 

Slough Borough Council (SBC), Frimley CCG and Slough Children First will have to provide a Written Statement of Action (WSOA) following the inspection, which found them jointly responsible.

It follows a joint inspection, which was carried out between September 27 - October 1 this year by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Ofsted.

The report, released today (Wednesday), found that SBC, Slough Children First and the CCG have not worked together effectively and the majority of parents and carers in Slough 'do not feel understood, welcomed or helped'. 

It added: "Many parents report 'fighting' over years to have their child's needs identified and supported, without success."

It said arrangements for a joint oversight and accountability for work across education and care services 'have not been tight enough' and 'there has been too little focus on the reality faced by children and young people with SEND and their families in Slough'.

The report also criticised a high turnover of staff including in senior leadership positions and not all schools were welcoming of children and young people with SEND. 

"The social care needs of children and young people with SEND are rarely considered or provided for unless they are known to children's social care."

The report found waiting times for assessment of occupational therapy and neurodevelopmental needs are 'unacceptably long' and there is no dysphagia (people who experience difficulties swallowing, eating and or drinking) service commissioned for children aged over five. 

The report did acknowledge there was a 'clear desire' to improve at all levels and leaders had begun to implement their improvement plan to address weaknesses identified in its self-evaluation.

However it continued: "It is too early to be confident that the cycle of cuts to services, regular changes in leadership, interim appointments and vacancies and the pattern of disjointed communication and initiatives not being seen through has been broken."

In May, a rapid improvement plan was put in place across the council to address pressing gaps in assessment and provision, ensure online information was up to date, secure effective joint leadership oversight and accountability and an effective approach to using funding.

The report did praise SEND services in early years, the mental health transformation programme, the support received from the SEND information, advice and support service and the 'valiant efforts' of individual members of staff.

The WSOA will have to explain how SBC, Frimley CCG and Slough Children First will tackle the 'overlooked voice' of children and young people with SEND, the limited opportunities for parents and cares to be involved in planning and reviewing services, and improving the time it takes for EHC plans to be produced and updated.

Cllr Christine Hulme, cabinet member for education and children, who took over the portfolio in May said the report findings were 'heartbreaking' and said the council's work it has been doing since May was 'too new to have had any real impact' before the inspection. 

She said: "We need to improve and fast, not just because it is what our SEND children need, but because it is what they deserve."

Tony Hunter, recently appointed chair of Slough Children First, said: "In our new status as a council owned company, committed to even closer collaboration, we at Slough Children First will give every possible support to the council in its clear determination to develop and improve - at speed - services for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

"We are pleased the contribution of our social workers in helping families has been recognised; this gives a strong foundation for intense work across partners to improve the quality of children and families needing this range of services.”

Tracy Faraday-Drake, managing director of the NHS Frimley Clinical Commissioning Group in Slough said: ‘We are determined to provide the children and young people across Slough who have special educational needs and disabilities the services they need in a timely way, so they have every opportunity to flourish.

“This inspection has shone a light on some of our most vulnerable children and we are working together with the borough council and with our other partners to drive the transformation of these vital services."

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