Council fails to ensure all schools ‘accommodate’ SEND pupils

Government intervention on the cards after damning inspection of Kent's SEND services

Government intervention on the cards after damning inspection of Kent's SEND services

A council has failed to tackle a “lack of willingness” of some schools to “accommodate” children with SEND, Ofsted said in a damning inspection report into one of the country’s largest local authorities.

Ministers will now decide whether to intervene at Kent County Council after Ofsted found it had made no progress in addressing any of the nine “significant weaknesses”.

The joint area SEND inspection report actually found the quality of provision had “regressed” since a critical inspection three years ago.

After a visit in September, inspectors found there was “too wide a variation … in commitment to inclusion in schools”.

The inspection report, published this week, found a “widely held view among parents and some schools that certain secondary schools are not inclusive”. 

And the “lack of willingness of some schools to accommodate children with SEND has continued” since the last inspection.

It shows the scale of the task ahead for government to implement its SEND reforms, which are structured around making mainstream schools “more inclusive”.

The Ofsted report said a child with SEND in Kent is more likely to attend a special school than anywhere else in England. They are twice as likely to attend an independent special school, which can be costly for councils. 

The proportion of education, health and care plans (EHCP) in Kent is 20 per cent higher than the average in England.

But school leaders and council staff are concerned specialist places are not “allocated rigorously according to need” but “rather in response to the level of challenge from parents and politicians”.

Several parents told inspectors the “only way to get action was through a direct appeal” to their MP.

While some schools offer a “warm welcome” to children with SEND, others “neither participate in opportunities to share and learn from good practice nor overtly welcome” these pupils.

Schools “known” to be more inclusive take in more children and “this results in increased pressure on finite resources”.

School leaders said the council has “failed” to address the “unequal admission” of children.

This “adds to inequities” in the SEND system and “anxiety that some children and young people who really do need a specialist place are not able to access one”. 

Parents and school staff said they attempted to call SEND officers “forty or fifty times with no response”.

Kent council and health leaders “acknowledge” this “uneven distribution” but “poor communication has hampered progress”. 

An “inclusive leadership” programme will be launched in January. Part of the council’s improvement plan includes “strengthening SEND provision in mainstream schools”, by providing training and resources.

Kent is a selective school area. Ofsted found some parents worry about “rough” behaviour in non-selective secondary schools, and others were anxious about “strict behaviour regimes” that could “disadvantage” their child. 

So families believe the only way they can get the right support is through an EHCP before they leave primary school.

Analysis by the Comprehensive Future campaign group shows just 3.9 per cent of Kent grammar school pupils have SEND, compared to 12.1 per cent in the region’s non-selective schools. 

But Mark Fenton, chief executive officer at Grammar School Heads Association, said attempts to hold grammar schools responsible will “serve to distract attention from the key problem of under-funding in the system as a whole”.

Council leader Roger Gough said the report makes for “uncomfortable and hugely disappointing reading” and apologised to families.

Kent Online reported that a family from Maidstone with two autistic sons claimed they were offered £100,000 by the council to move away.

Kent is in discussions with DfE about becoming a safety valve council – meaning it will be handed a bailout to plug a high need budget blackholes, but with strict conditions attached. 

The SEND review proposed tweaking performance league tables to incentivise mainstream schools to become more inclusive. 

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