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Nottinghamshire County Council makes improvements to special educational needs services but admits it has ‘far more work to do’

Nottinghamshire County Council has said its services for children with special educational needs are improving — but admitted there is still more to be done.

Last year the authority was criticised for its timeliness in completing assessments for children with complex needs by watchdogs Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The council said it has put measures in place to improve its timeliness with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCs) — which provide support for people aged up to 25 with help such as speech and language therapy.

County Hall in West Bridgford, the headquarters of Nottinghamshire County Council.
County Hall in West Bridgford, the headquarters of Nottinghamshire County Council.

It set up a special educational needs and disabilities — also known as SEND — improvement plan as a result of the highlighted failings.

It added that fifteen new members of staff are being recruited to reduce the waiting times for assessments.

But councillors at a children and families select committee on February 5 said children and families are still waiting a “significantly long time”.

The authority said as of November 2023, 28.3% of children and young people received their EHC plan within 140 days, compared to 4.5% in 2022.

On average, families were waiting five weeks less to receive their EHC Plans in September 2023 compared to January 2023, from 36.8 weeks down to 28.3 weeks.

By December 2023, 359 children were waiting for educational psychology EHC needs assessments, down from 488 in September.

The government’s target is for councils to complete the assessments within 22 weeks.

Nottinghamshire County Council and NHS Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care Board (ICB) are responsible for arranging services for children and young people with SEND.

EHC plans identify educational, health and social needs and set out the extra support to meet those needs.

Anne Callaghan said: “The statistics are still below our regional and statistical neighbours. What are we doing about that?

“Families are still waiting a significantly long time, although I will admit it has gone down. Over a year for an appointment is a long time for children with SEND.”

Sam Smith, cabinet member for education and SEND, said: “We have improved the time it is taking. That is not enough and there is far more work to do there.

“We are employing an extra nine educational psychologists to help with those assessments.

“Educational psychologists play a key role in the EHCP process. Recruiting them is like recruiting gold dust.

“We have plans in place, three additional trainees at the moment and they will be qualified shortly.”

John Willmott said: “I’m alarmed to say the least.

“I read last year’s report, it is rather damning and it showed widespread failings into services.

“Has anyone been brought to task over failings in the last 12 months? I have not seen any reports that state if anyone will be resigning or not.”

Chairman Mike Introna said: “What we’re not going to do in this committee is to talk about whether members or officers should be falling on swords or resigning.”

Mr Smith added: “It can be difficult going through the process particularly if it is the first time accessing services.

“Through the improvement board we are employing SEND education pathway officers, there are three of those that are being employed. They will offer one to one support to families to make sure they get the support they require.

“It can be a bit of a minefield.”

He added a SEND improvement inbox had been set up for families going through the process.

The Department for Education and NHS England undertook a ‘deep dive’ in September 2023, reviewing progress against Nottinghamshire’s SEND Improvement Plan.

Feedback said the commitment to “making sustainable improvements to SEND services and to the lives of children and young people was clear”.

But it added that “children and young people and parents or carers may be subject to increased risks whilst waiting; either through a deterioration in their physical, emotional, or mental health or they may require a longer period of treatment or intervention following the longer waiting period.”

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