Special needs children in Devon in a “dire situation”
Tom Langley reports on the Devon County Council’s support for children with special needs and disabilities amidst several parents protesting for the situation to change.
Parents of schools in Devon have strongly criticised the County Council’s provisions for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Ofsted, the regulatory body for educational institutions, and the Care Quality Commission, which inspects health and social care providers in England, had in 2018 found services for SEND pupils in Devon to be inadequate. A further report from June last year found there had not been any “sufficient progress in addressing any of the significant weaknesses”.
Whilst there had been improvement in some areas, the council was still failing to provide adequate services to [SEND] pupils
In the autumn, whilst the failings had been acknowledged by Devon County Council, the Department for Education concluded that whilst there had been improvement in some areas, the council was still failing to provide adequate services to pupils. At the time it appointed a new Commissioner for Children’s Services in Devon and took control over aspects of its operations until further notice.
Earlier this year, a group of parents formed a campaign group, “Devon SEND Parents and Carers for Change”, and held a protest at county hall in Exeter to express their dissatisfaction over the provision. At the time, one parent spoke of how in some cases, funding delays meant some SEND pupils were away from school “for years”, leaving parents and carers to home-school their child. Other complaints mentioned poor communication with parents that did not independently collect their views, as well as a system that means each caseworker has 500 children assigned to them.
The council has agreed to £32 million of additional funding towards children’s services in 2023-24
With the SEND Parents and Carers for Change group now in place, it is creating a lot more pressure on Devon County Council to act. Separately, amongst budget cuts, the council has agreed to £32m of additional funding towards children’s services in 2023-24. With additional funding being routed towards SEND childcare provision, regular inspections, and increased scrutiny by relevant parents a change may be on the way to reverse the long-standing problems in support for children.