Central Bedfordshire OFSTED SEN Failures Highlighted in 11 Page Report

A Houghton Regis councillor, inundated with messages from parents, has sent a copy of her open letter to Central Bedfordshire Council requesting reassurances following SEND OFSTED failures in the authority's area. And upcoming meetings of the council look set to be the focus of a clash of personalities as a campaign group urges parents to attend.

Between 19 and 22 November, 2019 a joint Ofsted and Care Quality Commission inspection was conducted in Central Bedfordshire, looking at the effectiveness of the Council and the Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CGC) in implementing the disability and special educational needs reforms of the Children and Families Act. 

Inspectors gathered information about children/young people with SEND, as well as the available services on offer in Central Bedfordshire.  They reviewed case files, spoke with relevant leaders and managers at educational settings, as well as with families (parents and carers) who have children/young people with SEND.  The inspectors also visited educational settings (e.g. schools, colleges or specialist services) to hear the views and voices of children/young people and their parents/carers and family.

Whilst there was an acknowledgement by the Inspectors of the positive progress that has been made in the SEND Service over the last 18 months, the letter made it clear that there are still significant weaknesses in the Central Bedfordshire area’s practice which must be addressed in a written statement of action.

In their 11 page letter dated 12th February, Ofsted say:

  • Leaders lack essential strategic information about what children, young people and their families want and need.
  • Staffing changes mean that professionals and families struggle to get answers to their questions and/or receive contradictory information.
  • Leaders have not ensured that there are enough staff to undertake annual reviews [of Education, health and care] within statutory timescales.
  • You can download the full Ofsted 11 page report here
CBC and the CCG have a duty to submit an action plan to Ofsted in response to the written statement of action by 28 May 2020.

CBC will hold a Children's Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on 10 March. Documentation for that meeting is available to download here. Overview and Scrutiny is the process whereby Executive decision-makers are held to account by non-Executive Councillors. The Committee has an important role to play in ensuring the safeguarding of vulnerable children and young people, the role as corporate parent, the assessment of education provision in the region, including early years and the support offered to children and families of children with disabilities and special educational needs.

A Central Bedfordshire SEND Action Group set up on Facebook says that, “Local Councillors are set to grill CBC Execs over the Ofsted SEND failures on 10th MARCH. We need as many parents in the public gallery as possible. If you want to see change, now is the time to take action. If there's any way you can juggle this into your busy schedules, PLEASE come along and sit in the public gallery. Local Councillors will be pushing for it to be the first agenda item if enough parents show up.
Please mark yourself as 'Going' on this event if you are able to come.”

Cllr Ryan
Houghton Regis' Parkside ward Councillor Antonia Ryan has written an open letter (see below) to the Central Bedfordshire Council demanding answers around their recent failed OFSTED for Special Educational Needs and Disability.

Cllr Ryan has spoken to many parents who feel they have been let down with some of their children feeling suicidal.and said, “I am sorry to hear about how some SEN families were treated, both children and parents deserved better. I will be continuing to push for improved services and justice for those who had to endure such treatment.”

Parents stories are pivotal to this to ensure that we are on track to a journey of improvement. Please send an email to Antonia.ryan@centralbedfordshire.gov.uk detailing your experience with working with CBC for SEN.

CBC hold an Audit Committee on Tuesday, 3rd March 2020 at 10:00am 

One of the reports to be considered is Children's Services Directorate Risk Update that considers an overview of the risk position within the Children's Services Directorate as at February 2020. You can find that report among the agenda items here: j.mp/cbc-3march2020

Watch this meeting live  Sign up there now for an email reminder to watch it. 


Dear Sue,
Firstly, I would like to express my disappointment at the recent OFSTED for Central Beds Council’s SEND provisions but also my sorrow for the families that had to endure our services.

As an opposition member, representing one of the most vulnerable areas in Central Bedfordshire, I am very concerned that residents within my ward would have also been let down. I need to have faith that our structures in place are ones that not only support but deliver for all families. I have sat in several meetings in my time at CBC where I have been assured this is the case.

Through speaking to families since the report, I understand there is a feeling of being unwelcomed within our Council. There is even a quote from a parent saying they were made to feel like a burden. Parents and children deserved better and as such, I feel if I do not speak out then I will be complicit with the actions taken. Accordingly, I will be continuing to push for improved services and justice for those who had to suffer such treatment.

QUOTES from families in CB:
“I would like to know why it has to get to crisis point before they will intervene! My husband had a heart attack during our fight to get XXX, our son his EHCP! I’m on medication for anxiety and XXX has totally and utterly given up, he has no self-worth and little self-esteem. He’s told me I should have aborted him as he is broken!!”

“We are struggling as a family. Dealing with an autistic child on the edge of adolescence can be very difficult, but again we have been offered no help or support at all.”

“I had to give up my job, my depression and health is at it worse.”

I understand from your email, that this has come to no surprise to Central Bedfordshire and was in your own admission expected. As this is my 5th year sitting and regularly attending the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee (CSOSC), I confirm this did come to me as quite a shock.

We have allowed families to fall into crisis and not allowed children their rightful and basic need to support and education.

I set out below numbered questions that I would appreciate a reply as soon as possible.

Following your email stating the information provided by Sue Tyler in relation to the CSOSC meeting, which the SEN parents in the room challenged the figures presented was to provide a balanced approach.

The reports states “Leaders have a broad understanding of the weaknesses in the area’s provision for children and young people with SEND. However, they lack essential strategic information about what children, young people and their families want and need. Therefore, leaders’ planning lacks meaningful, measurable and precise targets that are well understood and shared by all. Stakeholders do not fully understand the direction of travel, or the rationale behind decisions that are made by area leaders.”

If the information presented does not give Councillors the full picture with areas being hidden, I would question how effective and rigorous our ability to scrutinise is. As Councillors, is there an expectation from us to wait for bad OFSTEDs to be able to know areas of concern within the Council? How do we repair the relationship between the Committee and officers if there is now a lack of trust? Councillors should be kept up to date with CBC working coherently and transparently.

1. Can I request the Council provide an independent review and investigation of the scrutiny function as a matter of urgency, looking as to why the information was not provided to CSOSC at the previous meetings and where the shortfall was?

2. As we are also known about this for the last 18 months, can I ask that our Executive Members be questioned on their role and how many times did they challenge the Officers on this key area?

Budgets / Future Planning

I note the Ofsted stated “Council has many experienced, passionate and committed professionals who work creatively to try and support families, and waiting times are being reduced. However, too many families feel like they are bounced around services with little meaningful help and despite creating new staffing positions to react faster to SEND Children’s needs, the time taken has had a negative impact on outcomes for children and young people over the past few years” so I would like to take the opportunity to thank the frontline staff who are fighting passionately.

I also note the recent jobs advertised through our website, can you indulge my ignorance and confirm if the service needs to fail altogether before we put together a resourced action plan?

3. Where was the budget for this previously and have we taken resource out of other areas?

Schools including exclusions
Since the last CSOSC, I have been inundated with frustrated parents telling me of their struggles within CBC. A recurring theme is the high level of children that are being excluded from mainstream school with no other options available to them and a lack of guidance/support from CBC.
I would seek to ask the following questions;

4. Can CBC confirm how they will address the lack of specialist schools we have and how this will be addressed through Schools for the Future? Can a focus of the answer be on the urgent need for ASD provisions?

5. I note from the previous meeting there is a discrepancy between school place available, can you please provide the actual figures of how many children are waiting for places to become available?
6. How we will be engaging them to shape our strategy for the future? Why has SNAP only recently been told they can be involved in Schools for the Future?

7. As per the report, can I seek assurance that we are doing our utmost to support schools to keep children in education?

8. Below are the figures for exclusions within CBC, can you confirm how many are SEN

QUOTES from families in CB:

“I cannot see a bright future for him in Central Bedfordshire schools”

“The poor boy has been failed not only by education but also by the health side of thing.”

“Some of the children have felt suicidal with the lack of support”

The impact of already highly stressed families is inexcusable, and it would appear our systems have seen to intimidate with families having to suffer their own out of pocket expenses and go to tribunal if they want a better service.
9. How many parents in the last 12 months have gone to Tribunal and how many of our cases have not been in our favour?
10. How much money have we spent on legal fees and how much officer time has this taken up?

QUOTES from families in CB:
“We are unable to trust the SEND Team and Social Care ever again. Their agendas are purely fiscal, and the child's needs are neglected.”

“I cannot tell you the hours and thousands of pounds we have spent on this tribunal, not to mention the worry and stress of it all. We are a family in a highly stressful situation anyway, and then to find that every professional agrees with one plan and the only reason XXX could not get what he needed and deserves is the very team tasked with supporting his SEND needs. They were so dismissive of me - ignoring phone calls, messages with the team, emails and when they did reply, ignoring any specific questions I had. I felt utterly overlooked and insignificant, as well as very disappointed.”

“We went to tribunal vs Central Beds cost us £21,000 and they settled prior to the hearing”

Education, health and care (EHC)
The report states “Education, health and care (EHC) plans are inconsistent and often of poor quality. Although more recent EHC plans are of a better quality, leaders have not ensured that there are enough staff to undertake annual reviews within statutory timescales. This backlog of annual reviews means that the weaknesses in EHC plans are not being rectified quickly.”

I understand from parents that we have taken away EHC plans or otherwise known as “ceasing to maintain” where we are no longer responsible for their care. We have a duty of care for young people up to the age of 25 years old.

I was also told by parents the EHC have been badly drafted which lacked detailed.

QUOTES from families in CB:
“It took the early years send team at the council 8 months to come into the nursery after the referral was made to give advice on support and intervention needed, throughout this, we were left with no support or intervention, and problems got worse, my son was running out into the carpark, hitting and pushing over younger children due to anxiety, and massively struggling”

“In my son’s EHCP it is written that he needs to see the SALT and ASD Advisory Team! He got his EHCP in Oct 2017 and they’ve still not seen him!! Despite the school referring him several times???? Why put it in the EHCP if it cannot happen? These teams are part of CBC as well aren’t they?”

11. What is the approximate turnaround for an EHC Plan?
12. How many young people had their EHC plan withdraw and appealed successfully?
13. How many young people have we declined to provide an assessment for AND EHC and what are the common themes for both of these?
14. How will CBC be ensuring that EHC are easier to obtain?

Moving Forward
As I have previously mentioned I have been inundated with messages from parents, the most important question is how will CBC be working to build a relationship with families again?

15. I note the timeframe CBC has to provide strategy that includes working with our partners Clinical Commissioning Group CCG. Can you confirm how Councillors will be kept abreast of updates?

16. At this time, I must ask what other areas of weakness are CBC concerned around?
I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Antonia Ryan

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