A STATUTORY direction issued to the council was a ‘vote of no confidence’ in its plan to improve special educational needs and disabilities services.

As reported, BCP Council was given the direction by the government, instructing it to make improvements.

This was as the authority’s plan, which was implemented through a written statement of action in 2021 from the Department for Education, was not making fast enough progress.

Cathi Hadley, corporate director for children’s services, said of the direction: “I would describe it as a vote of no confidence of not being able to have delivered the plan against the plan that we had that we set out in 2021.

“[The plan] was not making the evidence and it was not delivering the pace that we needed to do at that time.

“The opportunity to use that to revise and to review what we had delivered and why it had not delivered what we wanted it to do, it was presented to us."

Ms Hadley said the DfE carried out a review of the SEND service in July 2023, where it was agreed that the plan was ‘not meeting the needs of children and families’.

“We have not waited for the statutory direction to be delivered,” she said.

“We have taken the comments and the requirements on board since the July meeting. We have done a diagnostic and set out a plan which is evidencing some progress as we sit here today from July.”

Ms Hadley said that the authority was starting to see ‘green shoots’ of progress, but that there is ‘a lot more to do’.

“The real litmus test is when families and young people and children report against that, saying that they can feel the difference on the ground,” she said.

“At this moment in time, we apologize for the children and families that their needs are not being met, and there is a lot more to do here.

“That is the voice that we need to hear to give us the delivery of that plan credibility, that it's working and we accept what's in this statutory direction.

“In terms of the trajectory, we are seeing those green shoots and would like to reassure families, parents and carers that we are taking meaningful steps to deliver.”

Ms Hadley said the council is working with partner agencies to improve the service.

She added that the council has applied to the DfE for £4.8million under the Safety Valve scheme to go towards expanding capacity, and that it is working with schools to see where this could be used.

Kate Calvert, acting chief officer for commissioning at NHS Dorset, said: “We do have a shared collective responsibility and accountability for the performance of SEND.

“There's a real commitment to our partnership to make sure that the plan does deliver and that we do make a difference for our children and young people with SEND.”

Councillor Richard Burton, portfolio holder for children and young people said the council is ‘in a very different place’ from where it was when he took over the portfolio following the May elections.

“I think we've got the management, the oversight and the staffing a lot more in place to make the progresses,” Cllr Burton said. “However, it does take a while and the journey is underway.

"I get a lot of the complaints; I talk to a lot of parents. I have a lot of emails from parents and from schools.

“We’re getting a lot more conversations now, a lot more people are telling us what they feel and their concerns and it's a lot more open and out there.

“One thing we will see, I hope, is that I will get less complaints. And that is starting to happen now.”