Sheffield Council were inspected by Ofsted in November 2018. On Friday 25th January 2019. The outcomes reflect the realities of the problems experienced across the city. The Ofsted inspectors identify significant issues with EHCP assessments, timeframes, quality assurance, understanding of EHC needs by leaders/decision makers, co-production, transitions, waiting lists, joint commissioning and CCG.
It is very clear that the LA is failing the children and young people of Sheffield, and many of our Bright Futures’ families are experiencing the real impact this has on their children, first-hand. This reality is more than any inspection can possible illuminate. The struggle and nightmare is real. It leaves some families in absolute disarray; shattered emotionally and financially by a fragmented system.
Of course, some of these problems identified in Sheffield, are not isolated to Sheffield alone. The EHC process has left many families affected in similar ways nationwide.
The inspectors have directed Sheffield leaders in Education and CCG to co-produce actions to focus upon the areas of weakness.
So what were the weaknesses that Ofsted identified?
SEN Reforms have not been implemented consistently or swiftly enough
Plans vary in quality across the city. From Bright Future’s perspective, we see very low quality EHCPs being issued by Sheffield Council, normally following a very poor ‘assessment’ of need This included the transfer from SEN statement to EHCP. Rarely do we speak to any family in Sheffield that has received their plan on time. If they have, the assessment/ production has been rushed and without consultation
Too many children do not have their needs assessed accurately or in a timely way
We regularly see plans being issued without proper consultation with health and social care professionals; even at key transition points. An Educational Psychologist is occasionally consulted. There are some excellent Educational Psychologists commissioned by Sheffield Council, but the specificity stated in their reports for the purpose of an EHCP varies from professional to professional, adding to the inconsistency noted above.
Not meeting timeframes for completing EHCPs
Poor quality assurance of the plans
Again, adding to the inconsistency noted above. There appears to be no formal quality assurance and one plan can vary substantially from another. Some plans are not even updated after annual review (a perfect point to make sure the information in the EHCP is up-to-date and clearly reflective of the child/young person’s needs).
High level of exclusions of SEN children
This is happening more and more regularly, and unnecessarily (in some cases illegally). These children are then left out of education, with their needs not being met. We tend to find it more where a child that needs additional support has not been properly assessed, and needs potentially more specialist education, but this has been denied.
Poor multi-agency transition arrangements resulting in children not being supported at crucial times of their lives
This is so so crucial and can have an effect on so many young people about to move in to adulthood. The young person can end up being absolutely lost in a system that is simply not able to support them, never mind provide an accessible and well-planned preparation for the next stage of their life.
No overarching co-produced SEND strategy
The crazy thing is, so may families, young people and professionals could make this work; together. Yes there is a lack of funds, but without using the information that is at their fingertips, the council is missing out on some streamlined and successful planning for a workable SEND strategy.
Joint commissioning is underdeveloped and not informed by a full understanding of children and young people’s education, health and care needs.
To plan, you need to understand. To make decisions you need to be at the centre of it; listening; working together; assessing, informing. This does not happen between commissioners in Sheffield. What is the phrase we are constantly told about? ‘ASSESS, PLAN, DO, REVIEW?’ Ok, so how is this being modelled in the council exactly?
Decision makers (on how money is spent) do not use the information they have to prioritise the things that will make the biggest difference to children and young people with SEND.
Consequently, leaders do not have a shared understanding of the demands on current provision which, in turn, is a barrier to effective planning and commissioning.
CCG has poor strategic oversight of arrangements for identifying, assessing and meeting the health needs of children and young people with SEND.
Ofsted explains that this has resulted in unacceptable delays in assessing and meeting some children and young people’s health needs.
For the vast majority of parents and carers, children and young people, ‘tell it once’ is not working and they are constantly asked to provide the same information.
A parent summed up the frustrations thus, ‘I feel like a broken record’.
Training for education, health and care staff regarding special educational needs and the EHC planning process is not well established.
How can quality be delivered, without investment in training?
Children and young people aged zero to 25 experience long waits to have their needs assessed and met by some services.
For example, Ofsted state that ‘waiting times for assessments at the child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) and the neurodisability team at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust exceed National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance. Some children with existing needs experience unacceptable waits of three years to see a clinical psychologist. Although checks of the waiting lists are undertaken, there is a risk that children’s changing needs may be missed and the delays hinder their achievement of better outcomes’.
Post-16 annual reviews are managed by colleges and other providers and are predominantly education focused.
This is a massive risk, for children that have health and social care needs. Ofsted explain that health and care services do not make a strong enough contribution to preparing young people with SEND for adulthood.
Currently, more than 40 children and young people with an EHC plan are not achieving as they should because they do not have a place in school.
We believe this figure could indeed be higher - we regularly see maladministrative errors with data collection in Sheffield council - some children are noted to still be on school roll even if they have not attended in months and months on end.
Good outcomes for children and young people with SEND are compromised by the widespread use of partial timetables for lengthy periods.
Ofsted explain that ‘at the time of this inspection, 70 pupils with an EHC plan and 118 with special educational needs support were on these partial timetables’
The take-up of personal budgets, including personal health budgets, in Sheffield is low and limits opportunities for greater personalisation of provision.
In our experience, it is obscenely difficult to obtain a personal budget in Sheffield, for reasons unknown. It is rarely discussed as an option and reduces the ability to be creative, unnecessarily.
So what next?
The local area is now required to produce and submit a written statement of action to Ofsted that explains how the local area will tackle the following areas of significant weakness:
the lack of a co-produced, coherent vision and strategy for SEND in Sheffield communication, clarity and consistency in the relationship between the local area leaders, parents, carers, children and young people
poor strategic oversight of SEND arrangements by the CCG, which results in unacceptable waiting times for access to specialist equipment and appropriate pre- and post-diagnosis support and children and young people’s needs not being met
weaknesses in commissioning arrangements to remove variability and improve consistency in meeting the education, health and care needs of children and young people aged zero to 25 with SEND
the quality and timeliness of EHC plans
inconsistencies in identifying, assessing and meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND in mainstream primary and secondary schools
weaknesses in securing effective multi-agency transition arrangements for children and young people with SEND
Read the full report here
Supporting families and professionals to navigate the EHCP process, nationwide