DfE commissioner to take over ‘failing’ Birmingham SEND provision

Intervention is first of its kind by the government

Intervention is first of its kind by the government

19 Oct 2021, 17:53

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The government is sending a commissioner to take over special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) services in Birmingham, after the city council failed to remedy “significant weaknesses”.

In the first intervention of its kind, the Department for Education has appointed former Hampshire County Council chief executive John Coughlan as commissioner for SEND services in Birmingham.

The local authority was issued with a statutory direction on Friday after a second damning local area SEND inspection from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The DfE said it was satisfied the council was “failing to perform to an adequate standard in some or all” of its SEND functions.

The direction, published today, states that the council must comply with “with any instructions of the secretary of state or the SEND commissioner in relation to the improvement of the council’s exercise of its SEND functions”.

Schools Week previously revealed that councils which failed to improve their SEND provision despite repeated warnings are at risk of being taken over by government commissioners. 

Significant weakness remain despite warnings

Following a local area SEND inspection in 2018, the government ordered Birmingham to produce a written statement of action (WSOA) due to 13 “significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice”.

But when inspectors revisited in May this year, they found sufficient progress had not been made in addressing 12 of the 13 weaknesses.

During their inspection, Ofsted and CQC found a lack of a “joined-up strategy for improving provision” from the council, and that parental engagement remained weak and the quality of EHC plans were still variable.

SEND pupils continued to make weak academic progress when compared with pupils nationally and would have to wait years to receive the specialist support they needed.

A DfE spokesperson said every child and young person with SEND “should have access to high-quality services”.

“Where a council does not meet their requirements to provide appropriate support for these children, we will not hesitate to take action that prioritises their needs and brings about rapid improvement.

“That’s why we have issued Birmingham City Council with a direction that sets out the steps we expect them to take in raising standards in their SEND services, including the appointment of a SEND commissioner to oversee this work, and report back to the government.”

Next steps for council

The direction states the council must allow access to any premises, document or employee which appear “to be necessary” for achieving improvements.

The council is required to submit a final accelerated progress plan (APP) in November to the DfE and NHS England.

The plan must set out the actions the council is taking to respond to outstanding concerns and set out “impact measures and milestones” which clearly set out the improvements which will be delivered “in the next 3,6 and 12 months”.

The direction will remain in force until it is revoked by the education secretary Nadhim Zahawi.

The council was approached for comment.

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