It’s time for us all to SEND the right message

A recent report from the local government and social care ombudsman has highlighted complaints and concerns from families of children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND).

Ombudsman Michael King confirmed the number of complaints from frustrated parents went up by 45 per cent over a two-year period to 2019 and he has warned that parents are too often being forced to fight a system that was established to support them.

Tim O'Neill, Director of Education and Skills at Birmingham City Council

In a time when resources are so stretched, services for children with SEND certainly presents a pressing challenge to local authorities with some pupils reporting delays of up to 90 weeks in accessing help. As Director of Education and Skills at Birmingham City Council, I am acutely aware of how the legacy of austerity has left cracks and weaknesses in the systems. Sometimes this is sadly to the determent to some of our pupils and their families.

Last month I joined other directors from across the region to discuss how we might successfully refocus on SEND and high needs block as an educational priory for the region. We reflected that in the past our work has not always gone deep enough to tackle the root causes of issues and we all agreed that a more strategic region-wide approach is needed.

Influencing the national agenda is not our main priority but joint inspection and sharing of best practice most certainly is. We are committed to working effectively as a regional SEND group by collecting the information and best practice around the region and by identifying the gaps that may be present in order to make positive changes.

As I write this blog, authorities across the region are now in the process of gathering such information. From what we have seen so far we know that effective leadership, joined up thinking, strong partnerships and having the right people in post is key in delivering better outcomes. It is critical that we get to grips with our benchmarking data in order to effectively engage our health partners in high needs cases. Regional collaboration and more cross partnership work will of course help us on this path and is a key way to look at solutions in funding shortfalls.

I am encouraged to see Sandwell and Herefordshire councils have been recognised as strong in developing their approach to managing SEND. Dudley Council has also done some fantastic work with its wider inclusion strategy, with exclusions of pupils with SEND being sadly more common than ever before across the country. I know that other authorities are following this lead and work with commissioning hub and placements teams are also starting to assist with developing a consistent approach to working with market suppliers and education providers.

Our next steps need to be big, bold and brave and we must keep a clear vision that every child and young person in our region deserves to flourish and thrive in education.

Thanks, Tim

About Tim O'Neill

Tim is Director of Education and Skills at Birmingham City Council. He has worked in local government since 2001 in senior roles at Derby City Council, Leicestershire County Council, Northamptonshire County Council and Nottingham City Council. Tim has a PhD in the History of Medicine from the University of Manchester, where he has previously taught.

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