LOCAL authority leaders ‘do not communicate clearly’ with parents and carers of ‘the town’s most vulnerable’ children, an inspection has confirmed.
Between September 20 and September 24 of this year, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) conducted a joint inspection of Barnsley to determine the effectiveness of the area in implementing the SEND reforms as set out in the Children and Families Act 2014.
Throughout the week, inspectors spoke with children and young people with SEND, as well as parents and carers to discuss their views on the local authority and its effectiveness.
Having reviewed the data, and taking into account the impact of Covid-19, the inspector determined that a Written Statement of Action (WSOA) was required due to ‘significant areas of weakness’ in the area’s practice.
This statement must be submitted by the council and the CCG and it will explain how to tackle the areas of weakness which include the engagement and communication with parents, and improving the identification of, and provision for, children and young people with SEND but without an EHC (education, health and care) plan.
The report said: “Area leaders were slow to implement the 2014 reforms.
“This has led to high levels of dissatisfaction among parents and carers.
“Over the past two years, work has been done to start to mend what, leaders recognise, was a broken SEND system.
“Two key issues remain.
“First, the strategic influence of parents and carers is extremely limited.
“Second, the outcomes for pupils with SEND, without an education, health and care (EHC) plan, at SEND support are poor.
“Parents and carers have too little say in strategic decision-making about the area’s services.
“Many parents and carers report dissatisfaction with their experience of the SEND system in Barnsley.
“Leaders in the area do not communicate clearly with parents and carers.
“Parents and carers are not aware of ongoing improvement work or how to access support while waiting.”
Despite this, some of the inspector’s findings are positive and state the ‘voice of children and young people with SEND is strong in Barnsley’.
The number of young people with SEND who progress into education or employment is also strong and the post-16 education and training offer has been described as ‘effective’.
A joint statement from Mel John-Ross, the executive director of children’s services at the council, and Jamie Wike, the chief operating officer at Barnsley CCG, said: “I’m pleased that the Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission inspectors have highlighted many strengths and the progress that we’ve made over the last two years.
“We have a clear focus on making real improvements to services, with a true sense of purpose and commitment to children and young people with special educational needs and disability (SEND) and their families in Barnsley.
“Our early years’ support is good, the number of young people with SEND who progress into education or employment is strong, more individual plans are being co-produced with parents, and outcomes for children and young people who have education, health and care plans are positive.
“However, we know that there is more to do to ensure that the lived experience of families is influencing our strategic plans for services and provision.
“We’ll use the findings of this report, together with our joint strategic needs assessment, to help us do that.
“We’re committed to building on our strengths and the progress that we’ve made, to transform and improve SEND services in the borough.”
An avid campaigner for SEND children in Barnsley admits he feels ‘vindicated’ with the ‘breakthrough’ report but has said ‘the work starts now’.
Jonathan Wainwright, of Wath-upon-Dearne, has been campaigning for more than seven years to get parents’ voices heard and the recent Ofsted report stated that ‘leaders in the area do not communicate clearly with parents and carers’.
Although this was a breakthrough moment, there is still a lot of work to be done according to Jonathan, who has set up a parent voice group with other people across the borough.
He said: “The key part of this is the parent voice and I do feel vindicated.
“There’s a real strange thing where you want the place you live to fail just so it can get better.
“We’ve got a parent forum and Mel John-Ross has been in touch with us which is a massive turnaround.
“It’s clear that there’s an endemic problem in Barnsley that voice isn’t respected.
“Parents have been waiting since 2013 to have influence and it’s not come and there is a breakthrough now but it’s got to be a professional relationship.
“The main thing here is that we haven’t been listened to and Ofsted have seen this which is monumental for us.
“These are the most vulnerable children in Barnsley.
“Yes it’s been a fight, yes we feel vindicated but it’s now that the work begins.”