To offer the best support for children, their families and carers, we acknowledge that delivering these services needs sustainable funding and resources.
We are totally committed to listening to schools and not moving funds without permission of Schools’ Forum (a body that is made up of Head teachers, Governors, Academy representatives and other voluntary and independent providers and local authority partnerships representing all schools across Kingston).
Importantly, the SEND Transformation Plan is about ensuring that available resources are used to their greatest possible effect. Therefore, we are intending to work closely in the coming weeks and months with the Schools’ Forum and Council officers to establish how this can be best achieved.
After considerable discussion over the last few months, our proposal is to address five key concerns over the next three years. These include:
1. Supporting children with special educational needs to remain in mainstream schools.
2. Increasing the range and quality of local education, health and care provision for children and young people with SEND.
3. Being fully engaged with all stakeholders.
4. Promoting independence.
5. Strengthening transition for children and young people with SEND.
Why are we doing this?
For some context in the Autumn of 2018, the Council took immediate action to address concerns raised in the inspection of the SEND local offer in Kingston. Local area services for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities produced a written statement of action outlining how the Council and the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) were going to address the weaknesses identified.
Dire council finances
Since gaining control of Kingston Council in May 2018, we have also had to deal with an inherited financial overspend. Since 2014/15, expenditure on services funded by the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) has exceeded Government grant allocation. In addition, there has been an accumulated overspend forecast of £13m by the end of 2018/19. This figure in the current financial year would be higher, if not for the Department of Education’s (DfE) £3m Dedicated Schools Grant advance.
Without significant changes to the local system of providing education for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), the accumulated overspend is forecast to be £46m by 2022. We have, therefore, identified a need to both improve the quality of education provision for children and young people with SEND in Kingston, and address the very serious financial overspend.
SEND Transformation Plan
The introduction of the SEND Transformation Plan is, in effect, an action plan to bring Kingston Council’s overspend to a more sustainable level, whilst delivering quality services and support for everyone, and especially to those most vulnerable residents and families who need it most.
Consultation for the Kingston SEND Transformation Plan began at a local level, and included a wide representation on the Partnership Board and in several work streams from all our local partners.
The consultation on the SEND Transformation Plan has now been completed. The findings include a range of on-going support and enhanced local provision, and we absolutely reaffirm our commitment to ensure support for children and young people with special educational needs is funded in line with our statutory duty.
We are also keen to offer more local and high quality provision, with additional emphasis on early intervention. We recognise the importance of having annual reviews of Educational Health Care Plans (EHCPs), and we believe it is essential to have more training and support for EHCP coordinators and SEN caseworkers.
Trust and confidence
Moving forward, we believe it is essential to regain the trust and confidence amongst parents of children and young people with special educational needs who have perhaps, so far, felt left out of the decision-making process.
Importantly, we have been told that children and young people want their teachers and other professionals in the service, to be more open and transparent with them, and to work effectively together (with them) to build consensus and goodwill.
Tailored, person-centred approach
The consultation has also told us that children and young people want a more tailored, person-centered approach, which is more closely aligned to understanding their individual needs and learning styles, including appropriate learning environments, and incorporating a wider range of interesting and fun lessons and leisure opportunities.
Young people also want support post 16, especially in relation to work experience and support to prepare for adulthood. Transition into adulthood can often be challenging, hence why we believe offering the right support and encouragement at the right time is so important.
SEND: Key priority for the Liberal Democrats
We have listened carefully to many children and young people, their families and carers throughout the consultation process, and they have told us that they want to be encouraged and supported throughout their school years and beyond. A key priority for the Liberal Democrats is positive engagement with families, who are the experts in the needs of their own children.
We are working with all parties to ensure the key issues identified in our proposals are effectively managed and delivered over the next three years.
We are also working hard to establish a new parent carer forum with which we can collaborate to take our action plan forward. Working in local partnership is central to our transformation, and this is the only way we will be able to secure the system-wide improvement to achieve the best possible outcomes for our children and young people with SEND.
(Diane White, Councillor for St Mark's Ward and Portfolio holder for Children's Services including Education.)