Surrey's services for children and young people with additional needs and disabilities have been recognised by national inspectors for making progress, but with lots of work still to do.
The Surrey Additional Needs and Disabilities Partnership - jointly led by Surrey County Council and NHS Frimley and NHS Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) - which plans and commissions these services, has been given the middle rating of three possible outcomes by inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
This rating notes inconsistencies in experiences and outcomes and makes several clear recommendations for improvement, but also notes areas of good practice putting Surrey’s provision in line with many other Local Areas, which nationally have experienced significant pressure on services.
The report published today (24 November 2023) finds that, while important actions have been put in place, the Local Area partnership’s arrangements still have work to do to improve the experiences and outcomes for some children and young people with additional needs and disabilities.
Inspectors found that, “there is ambition for children and young people with SEND [Special Educational Needs and Disabilities] in Surrey” and that “Leaders have identified the areas that they need to improve” and “have put in place important actions that are starting to make a difference”, but that the “overall pace is too slow”.
Partners have regularly and publicly recognised the challenges in the system, and have responded to the inspectors’ report by reaffirming their determination to improve services at pace, with several actions already in place.
Clare Curran, Surrey County Council Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Lifelong Learning said:
This was an independent review of the provision for children and families across the whole of the Surrey Local Area, as coordinated by the Additional Needs and Disabilities Partnership. The findings appear to us to be a fair reflection of areas for focus and further improvement, as well as of good practice.
All the Partners acknowledge that the service and support some children, young people and their parents and carers are receiving in Surrey is currently not good enough, and we apologise for that. We also recognise the frustrations felt, and expressed clearly through the report, by some families and practitioners within Surrey while trying to navigate the complex SEND system and access the right support for their children.
The Inspection report highlights the Partnership’s collective commitment to make a difference and the plans already in place for improvement. Alongside delivering better services for children at a local level in Surrey, the Partnership, along with other Local Areas, will continue to work with the Government in relation to policy reform and funding to ultimately achieve better outcomes for children across the SEND system.
Clare Stone, ICS Director of Multi-Professional Leadership and Chief Nursing Officer for NHS Surrey Heartlands ICB said:
This report has justly highlighted that families across Surrey are experiencing inconsistent support and outcomes. Health partners, like those in education and social care are facing the difficulties associated with rising demand and increased complexity of need, set within the challenging context of finite resources. By working better together with children, their families and our partners we aim to achieve more consistent, sustainable services that are affordable to the integrated care system.
There is no doubt that this is a complex national issue, none the less we remain committed to commissioning high quality care that is responsive to diverse local need and ultimately achieves better outcomes for children.
Tracey Faraday-Drake, Director for Children and Young People for NHS Frimley said:
Across Surrey, 28,348 children and young people receive SEN support in school, and 12,925 have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). As a partnership, we reaffirm our total and unwavering commitment to doing all we can to deliver improvements and reach a place where all these children and young people have positive experiences and outcomes. We will continue to work closely with families, schools and other key stakeholders to achieve this.
Schools and other education providers are essential partners in delivering the required improvements in services and support for Surrey’s children with additional needs and disabilities.
Anne-Louise Payne, Secondary Phase Lead, and Kate Keane, Vice Chair of Schools Forum and Joint Primary Phase Lead, sit on the Additional Needs and Disabilities Partnership board, and note that:
We recognise the findings and recommendations outlined in the inspection outcome report, and remain committed to working in partnership to deliver the improvements needed for Surrey’s SEND children.
The report findings
The report found that partnership working led to innovative improvements in joint commissioning and noted strengthened multi-agency working had led to improved early identification of the needs of young people. Co-production was recognised as a “shining beacon”, with members of the ‘Accept, Teach, Listen, Access, Support’ (ATLAS) participation group of children and young people seen to be involved in “many of the recent positive changes across the Local Area” and “helping partnership leaders to understand and respond well to the current situation of inconsistency”. The report also acknowledged that leaders have been creative to address the rising mental health needs of children and young people in Surrey.
Despite these improvements, the report observed that inconsistencies remained. The report notes that children and young people and their families were found to be waiting too long for identification of their needs. Communication with parents and carers was considered in need of improvement, and the system found to be “hard to understand and navigate”. Inspectors noted that some parents and carers “feel ‘bounced about’ and confused”, and that to them “services appear disjointed and uncaring”. This is in turn contributing to “many parents and carers find[ing] it hard to build trusting relationships with professionals”.
While the Transitions team was noted as having “well understood referral pathways for young people needing support in adulthood”, support for children and young people during transitions between phases, geographical locations or placements was deemed “inconsistent”. The need to ensure children and young people with additional needs and disabilities, and their families, feel valued and visible in their communities was also highlighted.
Delivering improvements for Surrey children
Based on areas for improvement already acknowledged by the partnership in its self-evaluation, and those highlighted during the inspection, the partnership will take action to:
- further develop strategic evaluation of all partnership projects and interventions to improve their ability to monitor the impact and outcomes on children and young people at a system level.
- improve communications from SEN case officers and practitioners to parents and carers so that all stakeholders are supported to understand the system, decision making and feel fully involved in the journey with their child or young person.
- ensure that improvements continue in line with its recovery plan in respect of:
- reducing waiting times for health assessments
- increasing timeliness and quality of needs assessments
- increasing timeliness and quality of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and annual reviews.
- continue to review the breadth and offer of alternative education provision in order to inform commissioning so that alternative provision meets children and young peoples’ needs and improves their outcomes.
A special meeting of the Surrey County Council Cabinet will be held on Monday 11 December 2023, 9.30 – 11am, to consider the outcomes of the Local Area SEND Inspection. This will be a meeting in public with representatives from the AND Partnership's statutory partners (Surrey County Council and Surrey Heartlands and Frimley Integrated Care Boards (ICBs)), Family Voice Surrey and Surrey school leaders in attendance. Details of that meeting, which will be webcast, will be published on or before Friday 1 December on the Council’s website.