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Council takes action to address Ombudsman findings on SEND placement

West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) has accepted the findings of the ombudsman around the appropriateness of a child’s specific special educational needs placement, apologising for the shortcomings identified in this case and taking swift action to address them.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSO) today published its report after investigating a complaint by two parents that the Council had not properly supported their child’s educational needs nor provided them with an appropriate education placement that met their needs. The report can be viewed below:

 

Investigation into a complaint against West Northamptonshire CouncilPDF197.69 KB

“Whilst we are disappointed to receive this judgement we accept the findings and are sorry we have previously fallen short in meeting our duties to these children, but we remain committed to improving our services.

“We have acted upon the Ombudsman’s recommendations which sadly highlights the wider challenges created by a shortfall in SEND provision for children and young people in our area which we are working hard to address.

“Like many other local authorities facing a lack of places for children and young people with SEND, we hear first-hand the impact this is having on them and their families and know more must be done to support them. That’s why we have been prioritising these issues with work well under way on an action plan that will see a significant increase in SEND places. We are absolutely committed to making this happen, however we know this change can’t all happen overnight.”
Cllr Fiona Baker, WNC’s Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Education

The Council, which is progressing an action plan of improvements to address the shortfall of SEND places in the face of a huge increase in demand, has put in place all recommendations highlighted by the Ombudsman. The demand continues to grow significantly since 2020, with an expected increase of a quarter by 2025. 

An update on the report will be presented to Cabinet Members at their meeting on 11 April 2023. 

The recommendations put in place include sharing learnings from the report with colleagues who have a responsibility for Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans as well as update reminders as detailed in the report. The Council has also provided LGSO with confirmation on its approved budgets for increasing the number of SEND places by opening several new specialist units and a new special school to meet needs. A payment and apology has also been issued to the parents who raised the complaint. The Council continues to look at the complaints received on an individual basis and work with parents and schools to find a suitable solution. 

The Council continues to make progress against its action plan to address ongoing challenge of increasing SEND placements to help ensure better outcomes for families across West Northamptonshire. As part of its commitment, several new provision schemes have been created or are now under way since late last year including:

  • November 2022: the opening of 20 places at Hunsbury Park primary school as part a new autism spectrum disorder (ASD) unit for children in foundation stage, early years and key stage 1
  • January 2023: 10 places created at Hardingstone Academy for pupils in key stage 2 with autism spectrum disorder. This department is for children who need mainstream curriculum and provides that access to this provision as and when they are ready
  • February 2023: 10 places provided at Castle Academy for pupils in key stage 1 and foundation / early year pupils
  • February 2023: building work started at Moulton School and Science College for pupils with ASD and will provide an additional 30 places in January 2024
  • Autumn 2023: phase two of Hunsbury Park primary school to be completed which will see an additional 30 places for primary aged children with ASD
  • Plans to open the new Special school in Tiffield are progressing with detailed design work underway between the Council, Greenwood Multi Academy Trust and developers.

The Council has also introduced new ‘SEND Ranges’ which provide a set standard for each child or young person in an education setting to better outline what support is needed based on children’s individual needs or behaviours.

These have been coproduced together with families, SEND practitioners and education professionals to provide guidance for anyone working with children and young people with SEND, to ensure a consistent, timely and high-quality level of support is provided across our education settings.

Cllr Baker added: “We are determined to develop and progress solutions that will make a difference for our children and young people now, as well as in the future. We are on our SEND improvement journey and as a next step, we will be co-producing our new joint SEND Strategy by working closely with families, professionals and our partners to hear their voices, learn from their experiences and agree our priorities for the future. As well as this, recruitment is underway in growing our team resource and experiences to further support improved outcomes for children with SEND.

“We are committed to working together to ensure the solutions we develop are right for our children and young people and offer the best possible education, care and support that they deserve.”

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