SEND

Kent wants school ‘volunteers’ to clear its SEND backlog

Council promotes 'exciting' and 'behind the scenes' opportunity

Council promotes 'exciting' and 'behind the scenes' opportunity

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One of the country’s largest councils has been accused of “passing the buck” after asking school SENCOs if they will volunteer to clear a bulging backlog of special needs (SEND) support reviews.

In an email to schools seen by Schools Week, Kent County Council said it was an “exciting” and “behind the scenes” opportunity for special educational needs co-ordinators.

The council asked for staff who could commit up to one day a week for 12 weeks to clear its logjam of “several thousands” of annual reviews of education, health and care plans (EHCPs).

In a damning inspection last year that found “significant weaknesses” in Kent’s SEND provision, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission said that only half of annual review meetings happened on time.

Parents and school leaders were “disheartened and frustrated”, with plans “years out of date” and negatively impacting a child’s education, the report said.

In the email, the council said it wanted to develop “collaborative working”.

The offer to SENCOs could “support both your professional development and, should you wish to cascade your learning, the wider school community”.

Tasks for SENCOs would include looking at annual review paperwork to determine if an EHCP needed changing and reviewing it against a quality assurance checklist.

Training was available, but there “would not be an expectation” of direct contact with families or the named school.

The role would not be paid and needed a headteacher’s agreement.

‘Challenges recruiting staff’

A council spokesperson told Schools Week there were “challenges recruiting staff” to the SEND service, so a “temporary arrangement” with SENCOs was “a good use of resources”.

But Dan File, headteacher at Elham Church of England Primary School, said the move was “passing the buck”.

“My SENCOs are so busy that they wouldn’t be able to get these completed to our required standard without extra time,” he said. “Extra time means extra money and the funding is not there.”

Frazer Westmorland, headteacher at Mundella Primary School, said he would only be able to release his SENCO for two days, adding: “The capacity for offering support, particularly with strikes looming, although willing, will most certainly be challenging for the majority of schools.”

The Kent Association of Headteachers helped distribute the message to schools, in which Mike Walters, its chair, said the backlog was “several thousand” long.

He told Schools Week the initiative was “an attempt to use the expertise” of Kent schools to help and ensure “matters are addressed as swiftly as possible”.

“We hope and expect that this will be another in a series of co-constructed solutions to the issues that we face with SEND provision in the county.”

Kent issued 51 per cent more EHCPs last year than in 2019, compared with a 33 per cent rise nationally. It said it had a further 1,600 needs assessments in the pipeline.

Council in line for ‘safety valve’ bailout

The council is in line for a government “safety valve” bailout, to plug financial blackholes in exchange for reforms to its SEND provision.

It estimates its high-needs funding deficit will hit £147 million this year and “continue to grow” if the current trajectory continues.

James Bowen
James Bowen

James Bowen, policy director at school leaders’ union NAHT, said it was “abundantly clear” many councils were “really struggling with the SEND demands place upon them”.

“The reality is that most SENCOs are themselves already snowed under with work and it is highly unlikely that many will have the time or capacity to support a local authority team in this way.”

It’s not clear how many SENCOs have signed up, but Kent said it had “some interest”.

A council spokesperson said it had also “welcomed the many offers of support from individual schools and MAT leaders as it is important that we work in collaboration to improve the SEND system.

“It is entirely a matter of personal choice for any SENCO as to whether they wish to participate.”

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