Councils publish ‘unfinished’ local offers for children with SEND

Councils publish ‘unfinished’ local offers for children with SEND

Many local authorities appear to be publishing inadequate information on provision for children with special educational needs (SEND) including dyslexia, says a new report.

Analysis for the report by think-tank LKMCo found that a quarter of councils’ published Local Offers – which are supposed to provide comprehensive information on local provision for pupils with SEND – were “unfinished or incomplete”.

Dyslexia is the most common SEND need and is estimated to affect ten per cent of children.

But the report reveals that 15 per cent of Local Offers showed no results when searching for the key word “dyslexia”. A further eight per cent showed “only unrelated or unhelpful results” – including resources that mention dyslexia only in passing.

Local Offers should provide clear and accessible details of provision for special needs children in their area, and how to access it. Publishing the information is a legal requirement under the Children and Families Act 2014.

According to the report, it appears LAs have “too often” simply chosen to list services that were already available despite the (SEND) Code of Practice clearly stating that Local Offers should be “responsive to local needs”.

About a quarter of Local Offers were “so difficult to navigate that they appear to be unfinished or incomplete”, it concludes.

Director of LKMco and joint author of the report Loic Menzies (pictured) told Schools Week there was a “systems level” issue involving “a lack of transparency and openness” about the services offered by local councils.

A key recommendation of the report is for Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) to take responsibility for identifying schools requiring support to ensure high quality provision for SEND pupils.

Mr Menzies added: “At a local level the weak schools are now in a vacuum of support – and the recommendation is that RSCs’ remit should cover all schools and should be able to point schools in the direction of organisations and other schools that can help them.”

According to the document – co-published by the Driver Youth Trust – RSCs should monitor the SEND information reports schools are legally expected to produce and signpost schools needing further support.

But immediate past president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and experienced teacher of children with special needs Mark Baker questioned whether RSCs had the right background to do this. “ The LA role has been diluted and RSCs are taking over quite a bit of the LA role. But have RSCs got the expertise to be dealing with SEN provision? Probably not.”

Mr Baker added that the report “does seem quite authoritative in confirming some of the concerns we had before the (SEN) reforms took place”.

“At best we are no further on and at worst more children and young people will be at a greater disadvantage. It reinforces some of the worries we had when the 2014 Act went through.”

The report also recommends the National Audit Office commissions a full evaluation of the Local Offer policy, noting that while it was intended to provide easily accessible information on services available for SEND pupils, “in practice Local Offers have been a huge distraction; in many cases they are of little or no value and many parents are unaware that they even exist”.

Ofsted announced on Monday that it will be undertaking local area reviews of SEND provision, along with the care watchdog CQC. The reviews will cover schools and further education colleges, as well as local authorities and clinical commissioning groups.

All local councils will be reviewed and reported on over the next five years with areas for improvement identified.