Work Continues to Improve Services for SEND Children

Oxfordshire’s local area partnership continues to make progress to improve services and support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) after Care Quality Commission’s inspection report of SEND partnership services July last yar where they said there were “widespread and/or system failings leading to significant concerns”.

Progress includes an investment into SEND services by Oxfordshire County Council; plans to expand the number of educational places for children with social, emotional and mental health difficulties (SEMH) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are taking shape; a review of children’s therapy services is underway by NHS Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West Integrated Care Board (BOB ICB); and a number of regular information sharing opportunities and engagement events are now in place.

The Oxfordshire SEND Strategic Improvement and Assurance Board (SIAB) made up of senior leaders from across the partnership, including Oxfordshire Parent Carer Forum (OxPCF), is also well established with a clear programme of improvement. The board has been set-up to drive the actions required to deliver better services for SEND children, young people and their families.

Councillor Kate Gregory, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for SEND Improvement, said: “We continue to make progress in our improvement journey but it will take time for real changes to be felt by all families. We are working together as a partnership to review, reset and rebuild services listening to what matters most to children, young people with SEND and their families.

“Our budget, approved at our full council meeting in February, includes an investment of £1.5 million in additional capacity in the SEND service to help ensure that children receive timely and good quality responses to their needs within education, health and care plans (EHCPs).

“And good news, all 568 children with EHCPs, who are transferring to primary or secondary school in September 2024, had an updated plan issued by 15 February 2024, meeting statutory deadlines.

“Our commitment to improvement is also reflected in the number of new SEND schools planned across the county in the coming years, including Didcot where funding was approved at our cabinet meeting on 23 January.”

There is significant council funding to increase early intervention work in early years and primary school settings to respond to SEND needs and proactively support the transition of children into mainstream education (£500,000 in 2024/25 and £380,000 ongoing funding from 2025/26).

Measures are being put in place to expand the number of places for children with SEMH and ASD, including:

  • Utilising spare capacity in existing schools across the county.
  • Three new special schools, with approximately 350 places, planned for Bloxham, Faringdon and Didcot by September 2027.
  • Opening five resource bases² (providing targeted support) in new schools, with up to 96 places, in Didcot, East Oxford and Wantage by September 2029.

Similar capacity increases are planned for children with needs other than SEMH and ASD, including:

  • Building a special school, with approximately 120 places, in Didcot, by September 2029.
  • Expanding two community schools by a combined total of 48 places in Oxford and Witney, by September 2027.
  • Opening two resource bases in new schools, with up to 16 places, in Banbury and Faringdon, by September 2026.

The BOB ICB review of children’s therapy services is intended to ensure that support is in place for children and young people across various levels of need – universal, targeted and specialist. The review will consider both demand and capacity for occupational, physiotherapy and speech and language therapy services.

It will include a sensory occupational therapy pilot to help parents, carers and mainstream educational settings identify and support children and young people with sensory needs; a speech and language therapy screening and intervention tool, which will assess children with speech and language and communication difficulties and provide interventions to meet their needs earlier in mainstream schools; and speech and language therapy support in nurseries and early years settings.

The number of children and young people referred to neurodevelopmental pathways continue to increase and waiting times remain a challenge. However, progress is being made in terms of:

  • More assessments are being offered, directly through NHS organisations, but also in partnership with independent providers to maximise capacity.
  • Redesigning processes and maximising opportunities associated with assistive technology³ to reduce the time it takes to gather information and complete assessments.
  • Mechanisms are now in place to identify and meet needs at the earliest possible opportunity, and to review and prioritise needs on a regular basis.

The partnership also continues to deliver on its commitment to listen to, and act on the views of children and young people, parents, carers and professionals. On top of existing meetings with OxPCF and other parent and carer support groups, a variety of termly information gathering and sharing sessions will be held, online and in person, including in educational settings, to gather feedback.

Parent and carers of children can join an online public event tonight (Tuesday 19 March), bringing together parent carers of children and young people with SEND from across Oxfordshire and representatives from the partnership. Participants will be encouraged to ask questions and provide feedback. Parents and carers can find out more and book a place online.

SEND e-newsletters have also been set-up to share helpful information and updates, one for professionals and one for parents and carers. Parents and carers can sign up for the e-newsletter online and SEND coordinators can also fill in a simple form. In addition, online support for parents and carers of children with SEND has been improved to make it easier to find information. Further improvements will continue. Information can be accessed at oxfordshire.gov.uk/localoffer

SEND partnership improvement information can be found on the council’s website where people can also access the highlights of activity discussed and agreed at the Strategic Improvement and Assurance Board by reading the blogs from Steve Crocker, Independent Chair.

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