Report Finds Wandsworth's SEND Provision 'Weak'

Council and Clinical Commissioning Group jointly responsible for improving services

A new report on services for children with special needs and disabilities in Wandsworth has highlighted “significant areas of weakness” in the borough's practice.

An inspection carried out by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission before Christmas asked the council and the local Clinical Commissioning Group, an NHS body responsible for planning and commissioning health services for the area, to produce a Written Statement of Action explaining how they will tackle these problems. It emphasised that they are jointly responsible.

The report said they must “urgently improve” the planning and assessment arrangements for Education Health Plans (EHCPs). These are legal documents that describe a child or young person's special educational health and social care needs, and explain the extra help that will be given to help them, as well as their aspirations for the future.

It said these improvements need to be made to “better meet children's and young people's needs and aspirations and meet statutory timescales”.

The report also said the deaprtment needs to “evaluate the impact of the local area's work in embedding the reforms more comprehensively.”

It said they should establish “a consistently agreed and applied framework” and use the findings “to share strong practice and rectify weaknesses”.

Key findings in the report included “poor quality” EHC plans, where timescales “are not consistently met.”

It also noted that parents “are often left feeling confused and frustrated” and even professionals “do not always feel well consulted or involved in the planning and review process.”
The report added that changes in social care personnel “have had a negative impact” on responses and there has been “a muddled and inconsistent approach to the development of SEND strategy over time.”

This has “restricted opportunities for practitioners to learn from examples of good practice”.
It cites “a fragmented approach to the evaluation of jointly commissioned projects” which has left leaders with gaps in the quality and range of information they need to make reforms.

It also said there was “limited awareness” even among provider leaders of the borough's WAND card. This is available to pupils with SEND to allow them access to services in the local area either free or at a reduced cost to encourage them to participate in sport, social and cultural activities in the area.

Before Christmas mother Emel Rizwani, whose eight-year-old son has ADHD, set up a petition against the council's plans to bring a local charity for children with special needs and disabilities in house. She said parents' trust in the council's services had “eroded.”

Another mother, who wished only to be known as Fiona, spoke of the benefits her daughter received from the WAND card, but said she would not have known about it if it wasn't for the charity.

Nevertheless, the report did praise the area for working well with young people and their families to create a decision or service that works well for everyone.

It also said the providers “collaborate well” to keep the number of exclusions in the borough involving children and young people with SEND low.

Providers were praised for identifying pupils who may be at risk of exclusion and providing them with support when moving to secondary school.

Ana Popovici, Director for Children's Services at Wandsworth Council said she accepted the findings in full. “Together with our partners in the local NHS we have started to address the areas for development whilst continuing to build on the strengths identified,” she said.

“Our commitment to co production with parents, carers and children was recognised by the inspectors as a particular strength and we remain committed to continue to work very closely with our parents and our partners to ensure that all children with an EHCP plan have the best chance in life. I will ensure there is robust governance and oversight to ensure that the work progresses at a pace to benefit the most vulnerable children and their families.”

A spokesperson for Wandsworth Clinical Commissioning Group added: “We take our role in caring for children with special educational needs extremely seriously and we are taking immediate steps with Wandsworth Council  to address the concerns raised.

“We will work with the Council on the joint Written Statement of Action which will set out how all agencies and the council will work more closely together in assessment and care planning for children and young people with special educational needs in Wandsworth.”

Sian Bayley - Local Democracy Reporter

January 16, 2020