Parents, carers and teachers say seeking support for young people with special needs in Derbyshire is “overly adversarial” and education professionals say they feel “distrusted”, a review has found.
A review commissioned by Derbyshire County Council last year and carried out by London-based Isos Partnership has now shared its findings.
The outside firm found that “financial resources (for assisting children with special educational needs and disabilities) are stretched increasingly thin”.
It also said that solving issues with the county’s current system would be “easier said than done”.
Isos’s report will be discussed at a meeting of the council’s scrutiny committee on Wednesday, November 6.
Its comprehensive 59-page report, completed in May and now public, has involved comments from 184 parents and carers, 227 education providers and 141 other education, health and care professionals.
The firm found that there was currently a “disjointed offer of education for young adults with SEND and high needs, namely those aged 16-25”.
It says that solutions will not all revolve around more funding or more staffing.
The firm says that co-operation and creating more “headroom” for flexibility and choices for young people will be key steps to solving problems.
It says that Derbyshire is “unlikely” to receive more resources for high needs children unless there is a “significant overall increase” in national funding.
Isos also says: “It would be misleading to suggest that there are guarantees that the pressures being experienced by the system and on high needs resources in Derbyshire can be avoided altogether.”
It also found that fewer young people with education, health and care plans – legal documents which state what support a young person requires and is entitled to – progress on to college than is the national average.
Nationally, 11.7 per cent of those with EHC plans head on to college, but in Derbyshire this is nearly four times less at 3.4 per cent.
Isos says that the county should aim to reduce the number of young people place outside of local state-funded specialist education provision from 130 to between 70 and 80.
It found that parents, carers and teachers said that the process of seeking support for special needs young people “could feel overly adversarial and focused on ‘gate-keeping’ rather than finding solutions together”.
They said that the process was “too slow and struggling with a backlog of requests and that communications about decisions were not always clear”.
Isos found that educational professionals feel “distrusted” and that “their professional judgements (in relation to assessing children) were not taken into consideration unless they were backed up by a medical diagnosis”.
The firm found that a current lack of trust in the system “if left unchecked” “could undermine” the system as a whole.
In response to whether “there is the right offer of support, services and provision” – 67 per cent of schools and colleges either disagreed or strongly disagreed, and 75 per cent of parents and carers either disagreed or strongly disagreed.
Meanwhile, the firm found that there were “many” children out of mainstream education either on a short-term or longer term basis – “missing valuable portions of their education”.
It found that, as of October 2018, more than 700 school-aged children were in elective home education (home-schooling by choice).
However, after talking to education professionals, it was told: “The reasons for increase in numbers of pupils in elective home education relate not to parents making positive choices about elective home education, but often due to a lack of confidence in and frustrations about the support available in mainstream schools, and, in some cases, encouragement from schools to parents to move their child into elective home education.”
The county council says that it has already undertaken a number of “innovative” ideas to overhaul its special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) strategy.
It intends to make a series of changes on the back of the review.
The authority says: “Looking ahead to a new high needs strategy, it is suggested that this is built around three core ‘building blocks’.
“Focus on embedding core systems and processes so that they are operating consistently effectively.
“Focus on developing a clear ‘strategic blueprint’ for high needs support, services and provision across the county that sets out clear how the local system seeks to support young people with SEND and high needs, the respective roles and specialisms of services and provisions, and how these fit together.
“Focus on how services can work together seamlessly across the ages and phases of a young person’s life to support them in making the transition to a successful and fulfilling adult life.
“There were six themes that were identified through the review, with recommendations and actions, which will be taken forward by the SEND Strategic Board to inform a refreshed SEND Strategy and a revised SEND Strategic Plan.”