Supporting Families
  • banner6
  • banner8
  • banner7
  • banner10
  • banner2
  • banner11
  • banner4
  • banner12
  • banner9
  • banner3
Saturday, 10 February 2018 22:33

Medway Council fails its most vulnerable children

Medway Council has once again failed its children, this time the most vulnerable, as confirmed by a scathing Ofsted Report on its ‘services’ to children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities, published this week. The report concludes ‘Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) has determined that a Written Statement of Action is required because of significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice’. I think that is putting it politely. There are strengths identified; it just happens that all these appear to be down to the health service and not education.

Concerns centre about chaotic management of the ‘Service’, resulting in failure to take necessary action. This can be seen from the following quotes: ’Medway’s education and service leaders do not share one vision and strategy for SEN and/or disabilitiesNo arrangements are in place to ensure effective joint oversight and clear lines of accountabilityLittle progress has been made in addressing several of the pressing priorities for improvement identified as far back as 2012Leaders’ understanding of what has and has not improved in the meantime is limited. I could have chosen many others.

Medway

'The collaborative work between professionals and children and their families to plan services and meet individual needs, known as co-production, is weak at both a strategic and individual level' This criticism is underpinned by the heavy criticism of the implementation of Education and Health Care Plans for children with the greatest needs, which are at the heart of Departmental work, and ‘A considerable number of parents shared concerns with inspectors that the needs of their children are not being identified and met sufficiently well’.

There is of course reference to Medway's record exclusion rates: ‘Although improving, rates of permanent and fixed-term exclusion are still notably higher for pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities in Medway than for similar pupils nationally, as it is for all pupils. Lack of specialist provision has brought serious consequences for pupils with severe SEN or disabilities travelling out of Medway daily on long and very expensive journeys.  

 

My own views on the lack of competence of the Education Service at Medway Council will be well known to browsers of this website. However the Council appears conditioned to ride unscathed through all criticism by monitoring authorities, with the changing cast of ineffectual senior politicians and officers making quiet noises of apology in their turn and assuming this will be sufficient. Surely, one day someone senior will be held accountable for the self-serving system which continues to fail Medway’s children – but I am not holding my breath.

Education and Health Care Plans (EHCP)
Special Education Needs and Disability provision across the country was reformed by the Children and Families Act of 2014, the SEND section published here. Statements of SEN were replaced by EHCPs, and are primarily issued for young people whose education would be significantly held back because of Special Education need or disability. The carry the force of law and schools and the Local Authority are obliged to deliver their requirements.

Four years later: ‘EHC plans are typically not coproduced in line with the expectation of the 2014 reforms. The varying and often poor quality of EHC plans means that those carrying out the plan do not have to hand key information which could help them ensure that children and young people’s needs are well planned for. EHC plans scrutinised by inspectors contained a variety of weaknesses. In some cases, key information was missing… Where a child or young person has a health need, this aspect is often missing from their plan’. Although I no longer have the capacity to support families through the EHCP process, I am still too often contacted by families desperate for help in the face of an uncooperative SEN Department, or drowning in the confusion created.

One of number of areas where the Report identifies failure to follow the law: ‘The local area’s approach to identifying and assessing children who have autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) does not meet national requirements’. 

Provision
Due to a lack of sufficient local spaces, Medway places a high proportion of children and young people who have SEN and/or disabilities in provision outside the area…These ‘out of area’ placements use a considerable amount of the local area’s SEN budget. The high costs associated with transporting children and young people to this provision put a further strain on the budget… Leaders have rightly recognised the importance of increasing the volume of suitable local provision. However, there is no clear plan in place to successfully bring this about.

This all creates a vicious circle with insufficient specialist places creating a reluctance by Council officers to approve EHCPs whose requirements they cannot meet locally.

Some parents and school leaders reported that specialist transport arrangements for taking children to special schools and provision were not suitable. There are concerns that the bus escorts are not suitably trained to support children and young people with complex needs. One special school reported that the current transport provider is excluding some pupils from the bus rather than meeting their needs’. Quite reasonably, where there are sufficient SEN pupils travelling to the same destination, the Authority organises buses for transport, but others travelling a distance out of Medway will be sent by taxi. Surely, the Authority has had sufficient warning of demand to provide extra spaces locally and save on what will be an enormous budget. 

Exclusions
I have been seriously concerned about the high rate of permanent exclusions in Medway for several years, most recent article in July 2017. The Authority has resisted providing me with relevant information for a considerable period and is now the subject of complaints to the Information Commissioner. ‘Although improving, rates of permanent and fixed-term exclusion are still notably higher for pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities in Medway than for similar pupils nationally. Some schools have excluded pupils with SEN at increasingly high rates in recent years. Leaders in these schools have not done enough to improve the situation over time’. By comparison with Kent, an Authority six times larger than Kent, Medway had 81 permanent exclusions in 2015/16 compared with Kent’s 66. I am still waiting for Medway’s SEN figure.

‘Some mainstream schools are not effectively meeting the needs of children and young people with SEN and/or disabilities. This is particularly evident in the high level of permanent and fixed-term exclusions of children who have SEN but do not have an EHC plan’.

Medway Council Website
The Council website, exemplifies the confusion with no mention of Special Education on its main education page! Instead one has to choose 'supported learning', one of a large number of minor headings, which indeed leads to Special Education Needs, called SEN Support. However, this is situated in the Care, Health and Support Division of the council, Support for Disability section, not Education at all. This opens the door to a warren of pages, creating a fog of confusion for non-professionals, including several routes that turn back onto themselves and others with incorrect information, including a fairly useless Local Offer page, as required by law. As a contrast, look at the excellent KCC Local Offer page which offers a comprehensive and simple to navigate guide to SEN in the county.
 
Personal Apology
When I set up this website in 2016 to support my then appeals advisory service I had no idea it would expand into this 600 page sprawling giant offering information, news and comment about education issues in Kent and Medway. I now struggle with the enormous task of keeping the information up to date, and have considered cutting the scope down to assist in this. During much if this time I have been personally  involved in Special Education provision and it was with great regret I had to give up supporting families seeking assistance as I found each case would absorb more time and resource than I could provide. Likewise, The SEN information sections of the website have unforgiveably become well out of date but I remain reluctant to close them down in the hope I can work on them. When I began, there was no alternative to this site for online information but, since then Kent and Medway have been required to publish detailed information and I would currently recommend families to consult the KCC Guide to SEND.
 
Finally
I have selected several aspects of the Report, but it pays reading as there are plenty of other failures. There are strengths identified, but these can be classified as mainly provision by the health service and some schools.

This all adds up to yet another monumental failure by Medway Council Officers, led by Director of Children’s and Adult Services Ian Sutherland, who was previously Interim Director, whose background is in social services, and Cabinet Member Councillor Andrew Mackness whose responsibility this is.

The victims are those Medway children who have special needs and disabilities. Urgent action is needed to provide properly for these vulnerable young people, whose life chances are too often damaged by Council failures. In the past when a Report on Medway failures is published, the response is (1) its not as bad as it seems (2) we will carry out a review and come up with proposals which then don’t turn into action. 

Surely this cannot happen again.

Last modified on Sunday, 11 February 2018 20:15

4 comments

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 13 February 2018 19:34 posted by Medway Council Tax Payer

    The big mystery remains. Why is the failing Medway Council Education Department allowed to continue like this? There is enough evidence on your excellent website Peter to sink it many times over in a country supposed to care for its children. The bigger question: Why don't Medway parents rise up together and demand root and branch reform?

  • Comment Link Monday, 12 February 2018 20:43 posted by JJG

    These observations about Medway could also be made about Kent where the administration of EHCPs is also woefully inadequate and ineffective. Lost documents, incorrectly transcribed information, petty squabbling between departments over budgets and outrageously long delays that the staff are 'cheerful' about alongside a complete inability of different services to cooperate make for a similar failure to support students with SEN. PETER: If you think Kent is bad, I can assure you that Medway is worse! Having said, that my positive examples about Kent do not contradict the negative picture you have formed from what I know is experience.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 11 February 2018 23:08 posted by Victim of Medway Council

    Sorry, but you haven't said the half of it. We have fought for years to secure a Statement/EHCP for our son. Officers have lied to us and the school, prevaricated, lost documents, and given wrong information. We were delighted to be able to talk with the OFSTED Inspectors, but are very disappointed to see what is actually a weak version of the truth. Our son has been denied a proper education and so has lost his future; as a family we have sacrificed everything but have achieved nothing. PETER: What else is there to say? I am afraid I still can't see Medway Council acknowledging fault or apologising, even after this.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 11 February 2018 20:53 posted by Steve Cook

    Peter, there is no need to offer an apology. You provide a fantastic 'public service' via your website. It is a great resource and isn't provided anywhere else. PETER: Thanks. Its just that my heart goes out to families who lovingly support children with SEN, and I am aware of how much it can prevent a normal lifestyle, often for a lifetime. I just regret I don't have the capacity to provide support in the face of Medway Council's indifference to their difficulties.

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated.
Basic HTML code is allowed.