BCP Council’s progress in improving its special educational needs and disabilities services has been too slow, a government direction has said.

The Department for Education (DfE) has issued the authority a statutory direction, instructing it to make improvements.

Published today, February 26, the document from the DfE calls on the council, NHS Dorset, schools, colleges, academy trusts, early years settings and parent and carer groups to work together ‘at pace’ to improve services.

A new SEND improvement plan has been signed off, after it was agreed improvements under the previous plan were too slow, and too many children were experiencing delays in accessing services.

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Key changes have been set out to ensure the SEND service is ‘responsive, child-led and offers early identification and support’.

It has been put together since the DfE review in July 2023, and the local authority said ‘meaningful progress’ had been made in the past seven months.

It said education, health and care plans (EHCPs) have been issued more quickly, with a reduction in the backlog for the plans, along with a reduction in the backlog for those waiting for educational psychologist advice.

This comes as the authority faces increased demand for SEND provision with inadequate funding, and has submitted a plan to the DfE under its Safety Valve scheme. 

Cllr Richard Burton, portfolio holder for children and young people, said: “In the past the SEND service across BCP has not been where we have needed it to be.

“As SEND services are provided by the Council, NHS, schools, colleges and others, we are all working closely together to make sure we put in place improvements that will meet the needs of children, parents and carers in the future.

“We want to make sure that every child and young person with SEND in the area receives the support they need to reach their full potential. I welcome the input from the DfE as this has already helped us target key areas and make significant improvements.”

Cathi Hadley, director of children’s services, said: “We, alongside our partners in the NHS and education sector, fully accept the findings of the DfE which reflect the review carried out over seven months ago.

“The partnership did have a plan, in 2021 signed off by the DfE, monitored by the SEND Board in which parents were involved.

“On review, it was collectively agreed that this plan would not have the desired impact. We then undertook a thorough analysis of the situation and readjusted the plan which has collective agreement which we are now working to.

“At the time we collectively acknowledged that rapid and meaningful progress was needed, supported by our health and education partners to improve the quality of the SEND support and provision.

“Since then, we have taken urgent steps to make sure we are on track to deliver the right support to children and young people at the right time.

“It’s encouraging to see some green shoots or recovery in the wider system’s SEND services but there is still more to be done before every child and their family sees that change for themselves.”

“I am pleased that the DfE has recognised our renewed effort to improve outcomes for children and young people with SEND.”

David Freeman, acting chief executive officer with NHS Dorset, said: "Supporting the wellbeing of children and young people is a top priority for Dorset’s integrated care system and we are continuing to work closely with our partners, families and carers to improve the SEND support in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.

“We recognise that the changes we are putting in place need to happen more quickly. We fully acknowledge the pace of improvement so far has not been fast enough and we understand how distressing this is for any family who encounters delays in accessing the right support for their child.

“There is a shared commitment to strengthen our partnership and make improvements to ensure that all children and young people with SEND, and their families, get the help and support they need and rightly expect.”