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A message from Patrick Leeson:

11 July 2017 weekly update

11 July 2017

This week, Patrick outlines the background to the recently updated and refreshed SEND Strategy for Kent, which constitutes KCC’s policy for discharging our responsibilities for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

Dear Colleagues

SEND Strategy

We have just reviewed and updated the SEND Strategy for Kent, and this has multi-agency support and was consulted on with schools, parents and other partners and stakeholders. It was approved by Cabinet on 26 June and the strategy now constitutes KCC’s policy for how we discharge our responsibilities for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

As you know we have been responding to the biggest changes to SEN in a generation, introduced in the Children and Families Act 2014. These reforms have included the transfer to Education, Health and Care Plans with a reduced delivery timescale of 20 weeks and a new statutory duty on the local authority to ensure that the views, wishes and feelings of parents are given more importance and they are provided with information and support to enable them to participate in decisions which help to achieve good outcomes for their children.

In readiness to deliver the requirements of the Children and Families Act 2014, Kent’s SEND Strategy, which forms the County Council’s policy for SEND, was developed in 2013-14 with stakeholders responsible for implementing the changes and in partnership with parents and carers.

Kent’s SEND Strategy, launched in January 2014, set out three overarching aims to:

  1. improve the educational, health and emotional wellbeing outcomes for Kent’s children and young people with SEN and disabilities
  2. ensure Kent delivers the statutory changes (required by the Children and Families Act 2014)
  3. address the gaps in provision for children and young people with SEN and disabilities; improve the quality of provision; develop the broadest range of providers, and encourage a mixed economy.

We set out firmly our commitment to delivering the reforms, which have now been in place for over two years, and tested our approaches as a Pathfinder local authority for the DfE.

Now, in 2017, we have completed a review of our progress in delivering the SEND Strategy and this document is our refreshed plan, setting out the next steps to improving the outcomes for every Kent child and young person with SEND.

Real progress has been made. We have continued to improve and expand our provision, we have seen steady improvements in progress and outcomes for children and young people with special educational needs and we have developed new ways of funding and supporting greater capacity in the system through High Needs funding and the development of the Local Inclusion Forum Team (LIFT) arrangements.

At the same time we have successfully implemented the reforms, introduced the new Education Health and Care Plans and developed the Local Offer. The revised statutory assessment process recognises the importance of co-production and engagement of children, young people and their families. The reforms have led to a significant increase in statutory referrals for an Education Health and Care Plan, mostly from parents, which is reflected across the country.

By the start of 2017, over 3,000 Kent children and young people were benefiting from the new arrangements and significantly more children and young people with SEN in Kent were receiving a better quality education. Kent continues to have many reasons to be proud of its services and the quality of its specialist provision. The number of specialist SEN places has significantly increased and we have delivered good value for money as well as creating sustainable capacity in mainstream and Special schools. We propose to develop more provision and we continue to focus on improving both the outcomes and rates of progress for children and young people with SEND.

The Government, in setting out a four-year transitional period to March 2018 to implement the national changes, described the reforms as the most transformational change in SEN for thirty years, and acknowledged that the Act would require significant cultural and procedural changes and time to embed these.

Going forward we recognise that there is still much to do, to keep pace with demand, to improve the quality of provision further and to ensure that more children and young people can have the specialist support they need in local schools and Early Years settings.

Children and young people with SEN in Kent are achieving better progress than pupils with similar needs nationally. However it is disappointing that the gap between their attainment and that of other learners has remained very wide and shows little sign of diminishing.

One of the biggest challenges for the Strategy is to ensure that we can improve support for children with autism and speech and language needs across all schools, and that we improve our joint commissioning with the Health Service to ensure health inequalities and access to key services, such as speech and language, are addressed.

We are having to deliver this Strategy within the context of funding pressures throughout the education system. The Government is proposing to introduce a new National Funding Formula for schools in 2018-19 and in relation to High Needs, based on current proposals, we will not have any increases in the High Needs funding that Kent receives over the period 2018-2022. This will require even more effort to target our resources effectively and achieve even better value for money in the investments we make to improve pupil outcomes.

The investment in SEN in Kent is significant, with a higher proportion of the DSG spent on supporting pupils with additional and complex learning needs, than in many similar local authority areas. The challenge is to achieve better outcomes for this investment, reflected in good practice in all schools, better quality education and support for SEND learners, and providing a wider range of options for parents. The investment has also included significant capital spend on expanding SEND provision, by expanding and improving Special Schools and ensuring that any new school hosts an SEN Resourced Provision.

The range of support, advice and training for schools and direct additional support for the teaching of SEND learners, through the LIFT process, has improved and levels of satisfaction with the local arrangements are high. As we continue to see the incidence of ASD increase we need to do more to ensure all schools have the expertise needed to support and teach these pupils so that they make good progress.

We have significantly increased High Needs funding and more pupils are supported through this mechanism without the need for a lengthy statutory assessment and Education Health and Care Plan. This has increased earlier intervention and achieved better targeting of the available resources to the needs of individual pupils. However High Needs funding applications have increased significantly beyond our forecasts and this presents a financial challenge. At the same time referrals for statutory assessment continue to increase, which is costly and time consuming, and where pupils can be supported just as well through High Needs funding we need to do more to give parents confidence in this approach.

The Strategy sets out our priorities and plans for the future, and these are summarised on page 6 of the document. The success of the Strategy depends on effective partnership and joint arrangements with schools, Early Years settings and our partners in the Health service in particular. Thank you for your contribution to the Strategy during the consultation phase and I look forward to your support in delivering its ambitious improvements for children and young people with SEN.

Patrick Leeson
Corporate Director
Children, Young People and Education