I hope that you are all well. As we are now in February (where did that month go!), I won’t say happy new year…but do wish the next 11 months go smoothly for you all!
As promised, I am writing to you with a half-termly update on where we are with our iSEND Service Improvement Plan, and key focuses coming up over the next few months.
We are expecting the Local Area SEN Inspection at some point before the end of this academic year. Being a Local Area Inspection means that is an inspection of SEN across the education, health and social care sectors, with inspectors coming both from Ofsted and the CQC, which will involve school visits. We will receive the call on a Monday (outside of the school holidays) and inspectors will be with us the following Monday. We are planning some briefing sessions late this term, and I urge you to join these where possible, so that we are in the best possible position to showcase the high quality SEN provision across all our schools, when inspectors do arrive. Further details relating to this will follow.
During 2021, 82% of all EHC plans, excluding exceptions, have been issued within 20 weeks. This is the highest performance we have recorded for a significant period of time. National figures for stautory 20 week compliance for 2020 was 58.0% with the south-eastern region being 48.7%. For 2020, performance was at 74.7% for plans excluding exceptions, exceeding the national average. We have further exceeded this performance for this year (2021).
This achievement is particularly impressive against the backdrop of a significant increase in demand. During 2021, we received 1120 requests for EHC needs assessment, which spiked after the full return to school post-lockdown. This is an increase of 19% from 2020 and an increase compared with 2019 of 19%.
35% of these requests came from parents. We are doing further work to understand why this is happening, looking at the needs / age of the students and then looking at whether this picture is replicated regionally / nationally. The introduction of the portal for schools to make requests, although initially very successful, hit a small bump in the road post-upgrade! I am pleased to report however that this has now been resolved, and that requests can now come through the portal as they were previously. The next phase of this work will be to open this portal to parents to track progress of new assessments, and plans for this will be updated on net half-term.
As of 24th January 22, we have 5412 children and young people with EHC Plans; this number has increased by 33% over the past three years. Work has been undertaken with SENCos and EHCCos to really define what the agreed role of the Local Authority (EHCCo) is in relation to the statutory requirements for these plans, and what the role of the school is (SENCo). We intend to publish further guidance on the Local Offer / Schoolsweb to afford greater transparency and understanding of who is responsible for what for both families and settings. I will send the link to this in my update next time.
Children / young people with EHCPs without an educational placement / not attending school / accessing school part-time
We have done a significant amount of work that I know many of you have been a part of getting children that have been without a placement into school, particularly over the course of 2021. To demonstrate the impact of this, in January 2021, there were 27 statutory school aged children with EHCPs that did not have a named school placement. 7 of these children had an allocated social worker. By Jan 2022, 26 of those students now have a school placement and are attending school.
To update on the current position, in December 21 we had 18 unplaced children, 5 of whom had recently moved into the authority within the last 8 weeks and 9 of whom had a placement named to start during 2022. This left 4 remaining which is the best position we have been in in this regard for some time. We are really committed to working with you to ensuring the most vulnerable children are supported, and will ensure that these children are at the top of the agenda for all communications.
There has also been a significant amount of work on working through the data on the system of those young people aged between 16 – 25 to accurately identify those young people that are NEET. Working with SEND Improvement and the Family Support Service, we now have a mechanism to take these young people through a NEET Solutions panel to enhance the opportunity for them to re-engage with education, and are looking to develop a clear process for this to support young people with EHCPs that may become NEET in the future.
Annual Reviews of EHC Plans
We have now drafted a strategy for tackling the issue of updating EHC Plans following annual reviews. Our top three priorities for ensuring the EHCP annual review process is completed in appropriate timeframes, with a renewed focus on the quality of these existing EHC plans, are:
Priority 1 – Vulnerable Groups (including those with a social worker, unplaced children / NEET young people, in receipt of an individual package of education, electively home educated, have attendance issues / at risk of or have suffered from suspension).
Priority 2 – Phase Transfers (those starting school for the first time / moving from one school to another / onto a post-16 setting / between post-16 settings)
Priority 3 – Annual reviews that are over two years out of date
As part of the work to define the EHCCo and SENCo roles, it is vital that communication between school and EHCCo is kept structured (through specific meetings in place) focusing on these annual reviews, in order to improve practice and performance in this area. I am enthused by some creative solutions / methods of working coming forward so far, and will continue to update on performance in this area as part of each half-termly update.
Targets will be set, working with management, with output tracked against these priorities going forward, so it is really important that we are all committed to this statutory service focus.
The Annual Review Strategy will be shared in more detail at PEB and BASH, and was shared with Special Schools last week, and will be on schoolsweb and the Local Offer for future reference.
As part of the phase transfer process for school age children with EHCPs (starting school for the first time, transitioning from infant to junior school, or from primary to secondary school), we introduced additional meetings with secondary Headteachers across the county. These gave all the opportunity to discuss specific children that had been agreed in line with points in SEN legislation (parental preference / specific types of school as part of the discussion at SEND Placement Panel). These were held in November and December and worked well, with learning from all parties being taken forward, and embedded into a more solid terms of reference ready for next year. Making decision in this way will enable final EHC plans to have the next named setting in place by 15th February, create a more unified approach to help avoid the need parents may feel to appeal decisions, and ensure that transport eligibility decisions are made earlier, so that transport can be commissioned ready for September for these students. Thank you all for your contributions to this
Our SEND Sufficiency Strategy 2022-27 has now been published and is available on the Local Offer, by following the link below:
Lots of exciting projects coming up to develop our provision for CYP with SEND over the next few years; thank you to all those that have come forward to be a part of this, developing high quality SEN provision across Bucks.
Whole School SEND
Work has moved at pace working several Headteacher colleagues as part of a working group attached to Schools’ Forum, called the DSG Spending Review Group. Greater detail of this is included as part of the Schools’ Forum papers, which can be accessed here, for those who have a particular interest in this area:
One of the strands of this piece of work was to devise new roles to sit in the iSEND Service. These roles are called SEND Inclusion Advisers; there will be three of these posts, one in each area sitting under the iSEND Area Team Managers within each locality. The co-produced job descriptions have gone through job evaluation and the job adverts will go live very soon, so do look out for these if you have an interest / pass on to those that do. The ambition for these roles is to support a more consistent high quality SEND offer across all Buckinghamshire mainstream schools. We currently have Ed Hillyard, Headteacher of Holmer Green Senior School, working with us one day per week to spearhead this focus on whole school SEND improvement within Buckinghamshire secondary schools. Stuart Cateridge, Headteacher of the Primary PRU, and Bradley Taylor, Headteacher of the Vale Federation Schools (Booker Park and Stocklake Park), are piloting the use of the whole school SEND review tools with a number of primary schools too. You will receive further updates on this work as it develops, from them.
As requested recently from a member of PEB, I wanted to send out to you the full iSEND Service structure charts for all locality areas (attached). This includes the EHC Coordinators, Educational Psychologists and Specialist Teachers. Centralised roles not included here are Grace Adesokan, our new iSEND Business Manager, and our Principal Educational Psychologist, Tim Jones, both of who sit directly under me as part of the iSEND SLT. I hope this provides some clarity to who is who; we will endeavour to ensure schoolsweb and the local offer are updated half-termly with any changes to personnel too.
We have had a number of new starters / changes afoot within our teams of late, whom I’m sure you will all join me in welcoming. I wanted to highlight specific management changes – a particular thanks to Mike Pearson, Sue Morley and Jane Lewis for stepping in to take on roles as Seniors overseeing the work of practitioners over recent months. We are pleased to be welcoming back Tracey Lloyd as Senior Specialist Teacher in Aylesbury and Nicky Wills as Senior Specialist Teacher in Wycombe. Towards the end of February, we will also be welcoming Matthew Oliver into post as the new Senior EHC Coordinator in the Aylesbury area, as well as Hannah Hope as the new Senior EHC Coordinator in the Wycombe area. In the meantime, Christine Preston and Alex Potts are taking on the management of their EHCCo teams directly, with both Tim Jones and Hayley Nowley stepping in to support with line management of Senior EPs and Senior Specialist Teachers currently working within the Aylesbury and Wycombe teams. We are currently experiencing a significant amount of staff absence in the CSB EHCCo team, with remaining members working tirelessly towards the SEND phase transfer statutory deadlines coming up. Thank you for your patience when working with our teams during a difficult time, and respectfully ask you to consider the volume and tone of communications where possible, particularly when teams are under such pressure. We want to support in the best way we can, whilst being mindful of the statutory pressures that are constant.
The specialist teacher consultation also concluded in early January and we are pleased to report that we received over 100 responses to the consultation. We are now in the process of producing a consultation outcome report and so I will update you as soon as I am able to further on this, as well as intentions for next steps.
And finally some feedback from our young people…without whom we would not be doing this…do take a moment to have a look if you can:
Many thanks all for your continued support; I do hope this service update continues to be useful, and will be stored on schoolsweb going forward for you to access there as well. A particular thanks to those schools taking a really active role in the wider SEND Improvement work – your contribution is both valued and essential if we are to improve the SEND offer across the Local Offer.
With best wishes,
Head of Integrated SEND Service
Buckinghamshire County Council
For schools and professionals: SchoolsWeb – SEND and Inclusion
For families: Family Information Service SEND
Specific information can be found here: