This report provides the Improving Lives Select Commission with an update and progress on Rotherham Local Area SEND Written Statement of Action (WSOA) which was submitted and accepted by Ofsted in January 2022.
The Chair welcomed the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People to the meeting. Also in attendance were Nathan Heath, Assistant Director for Education and Inclusion, Helen Sweaton, Joint Assistant Director for Commissioning, Performance and Quality (representing the Integrated Care Partnership), Julie Day (Head of Service) and Ms Kayleigh Harrison from the Rotherham Parents Carers Forum (RPCF).
Councillor Cusworth introduced the report, highlighting the progress made since the 2021 joint inspection of Special Educational Needs and Disability Services. This inspection was carried out by Ofsted and the Quality Care Commission and identified areas requiring significant improvement to be addressed through a written statement of action (WSoA).
The WSoA was considered by this body in March 2022. This report provides an update on actions as of August 2022.
To oversee the WSoA delivery and accountability, a SEND Executive Board was established, which was jointly chaired by RMBC Director of Children’s and Young People’s Services and Integrated Care Board (ICB) Deputy Place Director, Rotherham. The Cabinet Member highlighted that a strong partnership approach had been adopted including the Integrated Care Partnership, school and college leaders, RPCF and other key stakeholders to deliver SEND improvements across the borough. Subgroups had been established in each of the areas identified for improvement which were as follows:
• The variability in the quality of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP),
• The effectiveness of the graduated response to identify and meet children and young people’s needs, especially in key stages 1 and 2;
• The quality of provision for children and young people’s preparation for and transition to, adulthood;
• Communication with all parents and carers of children and young people with SEND about the local offer, and the accessibility of the information included within the local offer.
The Cabinet Member referred to Appendix 1 which outlined the Rotherham local area WSoA and Appendix 2 which gave an overview of performance against each area of improvement. The governance and audit process for monitoring progress and evidencing impact was noted.
The Assistant Director for Education and Inclusion outlined that the WSoA was a live document which was constantly updated. He noted that external oversight and support in Rotherham was overseen by the Department for Education (DfE) and National Health Service England Improvement (NHSEI) on a quarterly basis.
It was stressed that the authority was not working alone in its improvement journey and good practice from other local authorities was shared through its relationship with the DfE lead. The Assistant Director reiterated the commitment to co-production across all key areas, noting the engagement of young people in service design and improvement.
The Assistant Director outlined risks and challenges within the SEND system. It was noted that there were anticipated changes to how SEND will work on a national, local and individual level It was noted that RPCF had contributed to the authority’s response to the recent Government Green Paper on SEND reorganisation. It was also highlighted that RPCF was part of a national working party on SEND reforms to ensure that parent’s voices were heard and reflected in reforms. It highlighted that that the reforms may require recalibration of current provision and operating models.
It was noted that the OFSTED inspection framework was changing and the next inspection would focus on the lived experience of children, young people, young adults, and parent/carers with SEND.
It was noted that Rotherham was one of five local authorities currently engaged of the DfE Safety Valve financial agreement. It was outlined that there was a direct correlation between the WSOA and the Safety Valve, as both were subject to direct oversight from DfE and addressed the long-term financial sustainability of high needs funding. Rotherham’s engagement with safety valve arrangements meant that Rotherham was well placed to adopt many of the reforms suggested in the Green Paper.
Prior to taking questions from the meeting, the Chair invited the RPCF representative to give her perspective on what was working well and key challenges.
Ms Harrison outlined that RPCF had been involved from the initial inspection and had been consulted on key issues arising from it. She noted that the forum was involved in each of the four areas for improvement and there were further opportunities for engagement and involvement. The forum was also working nationally to ensure that Rotherham parents’ voices were head and recognised. It was observed that there was a good level of co-production and that the forum was an equal partner in the improvement journey.
Clarification was sought about how impact of the improvement plan was captured and how this was presented evidentially so that there was confidence that actions were making a difference. It was outlined that the information outlined in the report was determined by the submission cycle to the DfE so may not fully capture progress to date. However, progress was reflected in performance scorecards which were submitted to scrutiny on a regular basis. It was also highlighted that there was an agreed reporting schedule to the DfE which would detail progress against each of the metrics. These updates could be circulated. Details of operational monitoring arrangements were shared to give assurance that robust oversight was in place.
Details of Health Partners’ commitment to the WSoA was outlined and their contribution to service developments and sharing good practice. It was noted that there had been no changes to key personnel during the transition to the new Integrated Care Partnership arrangements. Further, it was outlined that operational arrangements had been strengthened to develop educational practice, provide links to therapeutic services and improve support and advice to professional who were working with children going through EHCP assessments.
It was noted that waiting lists for therapeutic services was currently at 18 weeks. Assurance was given that significant investment had been made to ensure that no-one was waiting excessively and information and resources were offered once a referral had been made. It was noted that a future meeting of the Health Select Commission would be scrutinising Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in more depth.
Clarification was sought on the delays in the improvement measures linked to training. In response, it was highlighted that there were no significant risks attached the delay which were due to changes in contractual arrangements. Assurance was given that the Council had fulfilled necessary milestones in the implementation stage. However, ensuring that the continuous professional development elements were delivered were critical to the next stage and progress was being made.
In response to a question if there was any difference in relations between maintained and academised schools, it was outlined that there was a good, consistent relationship across the piece. It was observed that there were differences in practices, with primary schools often having more inclusive, flexible offers, however, work was underway with schools to ensure that their offer was communicated.
In response to a question relating to audit processes in place to track progress, it was outlined that an event had been planned for mid-September involving key stakeholders (including parents and carers). The purpose of the event was to take stock of the current position, to quality assure progress and outcomes and to audit a sample of EHCPs. A database was being developed and discussions were underway with schools regarding the provision required. Further assurance was given that parents and parents were actively involved in the oversight process, with the Cabinet Member having monthly meetings with the forum.
It was noted by a Committee Member that not all local groups were captured on the website and was there a risk that local provision or gaps in provision may not be fully reflected. Work was underway to map local services, although it was recognised that groups which may not be linked to formal provision may not appear. Further work had been undertaken to help parents navigate the website and simplify the information. The Assistant Director committed to looking at mapping and welcomed any information that Members may have about local provision.
Further details were sought on the nature of discussions with the DfE and NHSEI to ensure that the work undertaken by this Commission complemented this activity. It was outlined that the meetings were held on a formal basis with similar challenge being posed about the impact measures and understanding what this means for the lived experience of children and their parents/carers. It was explained that the process whilst supportive, involved rigorous scrutiny of actions with the authority and partners being held to account for delivery of improvements. The authority would be sent written updates outlining areas requiring attention or were progress had been made.
It was noted that some of actions linked to the WSoA were also influenced by other factors such as challenges in the school system and demand pressures. However, the key measure was that children and their families received the right support at the right time. It was acknowledged that post-pandemic recovery provided significant challenges particularly in respect of exclusions and children entering education. It was hoped that by having continuous personal development and system wide approaches that improvements would be seen during the academic year. It was reported that there was also activity taking place outside of the WSoA to drive inclusion. It was acknowledged that the WSoA also provided opportunities for focussed activity to develop pathways and improve joint working.
Clarification was sought about the readiness of educational settings to identify children with additional needs. It was highlighted that this was a key challenge within the education system at this time of year. An example was given of a school querying why a child who had transitioned to secondary school without an assessment. It was highlighted that the primary offer was different. The authority was challenging schools to ask them to consider how transition could look like in the future. Work was taking place with primary and secondary schools to see what can be done to ensure the right information and systems were in place to support smooth transition.
Clarification was sought that given current financial and recruitment challenges that the improvements were sustainable. It was outlined that it was anticipated that SEND budgets would not be affected significantly although inflation, pay awards and the cost-of-living crisis have been flagged as pressures. There was a clear legal expectation for schools to provide appropriate support for SEND however there may be schools reporting budgetary pressures in the future. It was noted that the Green Paper had consulted on whether SEND budgets should be ringfenced in the future on a similar basis to the Pupil Premium.
The Chair thanked those attending for their contributions.
1. That Improving Lives Select Commission notes the update of the progress of Rotherham’s Written Statement of Action and all associated information linked to SEND Improvement across the borough.
2. Continued updates on the progression and overview of the Rotherham Written Statement of Action are provided to Improving Lives Select Commission, including a further detail on how the impact of interventions are measured.
3. That performance information relating to Rotherham’s Written Statement of Action and SEND Improvement across the borough is provided in updates on a regular basis, including feedback from the Department for Education and NHS improvement agency as appropriate.
4. That work is undertaken to map local provision and ensure that this is shared on the website in an easy to access format.
5. That Members of the Improving Lives Select Commission are invited to future listening events and engages with Rotherham Parent Carers Association to better understand the lived experiences of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities and their families.
6. That a request is made to the Chair of the Health Select Commission that members of Improving Lives Select Commission are invited to the meeting focusing on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.