Ofsted report highlights significant concerns and weaknesses in council’s care for special needs children

Director of Thurrock Council Children's Services and portfolio holder Cllr James Halden promoting last year's awards.

DESPITE issuing an upbeat press release about the findings of inspectors, Thurrock Council stands significantly damned by an Ofsted report into its care of children with disability and special educational needs.

A five paragraph statement issued today (Monday, 13 May) by the council cherry picks the upbeat aspects of the report but fails to detail significant concerns of the inspectors who visited Thurrock in March.

The ten page Ofsted report sent to Director of Children’s Services Rory Patterson “raises significant concerns about the effectiveness of the local area”.

In the immediate wake of the inspection, the Thurrock Independent reported that Mr Patterson was expected to leave the authority but the council would not confirm that, saying: “Rory Patterson continues to be a valued member of the council’s senior management team.”

The council announced last week that he will be leaving in June!

Today, under the heading “Strong local partnership working supports children and young people with special needs” the council released the following release.

“An inspection of the service offered to people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Thurrock says that they have their needs identified swiftly and get access to the help and support they, and their parents and carers, need quickly thanks to well-coordinated children’s social services.

“The inspection was carried out by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in March. Its key findings also included that strong local partnerships have led to improvements in the service, that elected members are well informed and matters related to SEND are frequently discussed at the highest level of the Council. There are remaining challenges to address. Inspectors said that there are issues around record keeping, the quality assurance of the services received by children and young people and the quality of Education, Health and Care Plans, including the links between heath care professionals and council staff commissioning services.

“An action plan to address these areas for improvement has already been produced and shared with Ofsted and will now form the basis of a written statement outlining upcoming improvements planned by the service.

Cllr James Halden, portfolio holder for education and health.

“Cllr James Halden, Portfolio Holder for Education and Health, said: “The council is fully committed to ensuring the issues identified in the inspection are addressed and that our ongoing work with parents and young people with SEND will enable them to achieve and fulfil their potential. Prior to the inspection we have already started a series of meetings to hear directly from parents and address their concerns and we have been involved in a positive dialogue with Ofsted about our planned improvements.”

“Jane Foster-Taylor, Chief Nurse for Thurrock CCG, said: “While there is room for improvement we welcomed the inspection team’s comments about areas of really strong and good practice in reacting quickly to children’s needs. As Commissioners in the health pathway for children with SEND we are keen to work with our local authority colleagues to pick up on the areas for improvement as quickly as possible.”

The report, however, will be painful reading for all concerned in the beleaguered children’s services department, where morale is reported to be at rock-bottom and there are serious staff shortages.

Ofsted has called on the council to produce a written statement of action about how it plans to tackle the “significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice.”

In particular it says checks are not rigorous enough to make sure the needs of children and young people are met and their well-being protected.

Though there are some plus points, the report’s main findings highlight a large number of problem areas. It says:

  • Leaders have been too slow to implement the 2014 disability and special educational needs reforms. Leaders’ assessment of the local area’s performance identifies the same areas of weakness identified by inspectors, and plans are in place to address some of the weaknesses. However, leaders acknowledge that there was a lack of capacity to put things right quickly and a long way to go to make sure that the 2014 reforms are properly implemented.
  • There is an over-reliance on individual professionals taking appropriate actions, and a lack of robust systems and processes to drive improvement. Parents and carers who expressed their views during the inspection feel that professionals do not help them enough. They often feel frustrated and bereft of help because emails and phone calls to professionals are not responded to. Consequently, there are children, young people and their families who are not getting their entitlement to the information, services and support needed.
  • Parents and carers are routinely the driving force behind formal assessments and reviews of provision for their children. For example, health professionals are more likely to be invited to key meetings and their specialist reports inform the education, health and care (EHC) plans if parents and carers intervene. This often leads to action, but also results in inequality between the experiences of different families.
  • An electronic patient-recording system is used widely across different health services. However, some general practitioners (GPs) remain reluctant to give health professionals access to patient information, which inhibits effective information sharing relating to children and young people with SEND. This weakness was the subject of a recommendation in Thurrock’s 2015 CQC review of services for children looked after and safeguarding (CLAS).
  • The quality of EHC plans and annual reviews is poor. Plans do not accurately describe the needs of, and provision for, the children and young people. This misinformation applies to EHC plans for those in special schools and independent schools, as well as other provision.
  • The provision for children and young people aged 19 to 25 years, and for those in independent schools, or out-of-borough provision, is not well thought out and/or quality assured.
  • Checks are not rigorous enough to make sure the needs of children and young people are met and their well-being protected. Too often, the electronic records of educational placements are out of date and/or inaccurate. The inaccuracies make it difficult to track where the children and young people are placed.
  • During this inspection, inspectors identified nine children or young people whose whereabouts could not be quickly confirmed. Leaders immediately recognised the seriousness of the situation and made urgent enquiries to check the safety of those identified. By the end of the inspection, the whereabouts of all nine children or young people were confirmed.
  • Elected members of the council are informed frequently about the local area’s work for children and young people with SEND. The councillor responsible for advocating the achievements and well-being for children and young people makes sure that this work has a high profile and is debated routinely. Similarly, issues related to SEND are discussed frequently at meetings between senior leaders.
  • Thurrock has a strong partnership approach to joint commissioning of services for children and young people with SEND. There are examples of strong practice where needs assessments and collective responsibilities have successfully steered service developments and redesign. There are, however, areas where commissioning has been retrospective rather than needs led, or not sufficient for what is needed, such as the provision for 19 to 25-year-olds.
  • Services to support children in their early years are well coordinated. Children’s needs are identified swiftly, and the children and their families receive support quickly.

The full report can be read HERE