Parents of kids with SEND in North Somerset "have to fight for what they need"

Weston's Town Hall.

Weston's Town Hall. - Credit: Archant

Parents of children with special needs and disabilities in North Somerset do not trust mainstream schools and have to fight for what they need, according to a damning new report. 

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission said council and NHS leaders had failed to make enough progress on six out of eight significant weaknesses identified in 2018.

The watchdogs criticised the lack of front-line commitment to a new SEND strategy and said there was little sign of sustained improvement in the attainment of children with SEND. 

Commissioners said progress was not as fast as they wanted, blaming the Covid-19 pandemic and historic underfunding for SEND services. 

Following the revisit, inspector Matthew Barnes said: “A disproportionate number of children and young people travel through the system with unidentified needs, leading to them presenting with significantly more challenging behaviours than they might.

“This is fuelling the view among parents and some professionals that children need specialist provision when they do not. 
“Many parents of children and young people with SEND lack trust in the mainstream schooling system. 
“Consequently, pressure is building on the specialist sector to fill the gap in an unsustainable way.”

Mr Barnes said joint commissioning by North Somerset Council and the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group was poor, adding: “Families still have to fight for what their children or young people need.”

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However he found that commissioners had improved their relationships with parents and had appointed a designated clinical officer, who was raising the profile of SEND. 

Councillor Catherine Gibbons, North Somerset Council’s executive member for children and young people, said: “We recognise that we have made progress, but that this has not been as fast as we, or the inspectors, would want. 

“In part this relates to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also to many years of historic underfunding for SEND services on both a local and national level.
“Services for children and young people with additional needs are now very much a priority for both the council and the CCG, and we welcome this report in outlining the challenges we face in improving services in North Somerset.”

North Somerset Council children’s services director Sheila Smith, who chairs the Local Area SEND Partnership Board, added: “We look forward to working with our children and young people and their families, our partners and local providers in pushing forward with our plans at pace and finishing work on exciting developments which were begun before the difficulties of the last year.

“I’m confident that when inspectors next visit, they will hear from parents that our services are having a very positive impact on children’s lives and wellbeing.”

The council and CCG will now be required to develop an accelerated progress plan. They will receive support and challenge from the Department for Education and NHS England in order to increase the pace of change for SEND services.