A “chronic shortage of educational psychologists” is one of the key challenges facing Central Bedfordshire Council’s (CBC) special educational needs and disability (SEND) strategy, a meeting heard.
An Ofsted and Care Quality Commission (CQC) report in November 2019 called for a written statement of action from CBC and BLMK Clinical Commissioning Group.
East of England SEND network coordinator Pat Bullen was part of a regional peer review done virtually, with a further inspection by Ofsted and the CQC expected next year.
The review focused on the four areas included in the written statement of action, she told CBC’s children’s services overview and scrutiny committee.
“We considered strategic leadership and found strengths,” she said. “We found a system that knows itself better now than when you were inspected.
“There’s a stronger clarity of vision. We know there’s some variation around how widely that’s communicated and shared currently.
“Certainly schools seem to be taking on board an improved partnership with CBC during the past two years.
“You’re committed as councillors. That’s evident from your passion for SEND and inclusion.”
Areas of development include addressing “an operational lag“, according to Ms Bullen. “Although a lot of that change has begun, Ofsted talks about intention, implementation and impact,” she explained.
“The intention and the implementation have been secured in many areas. The impact has yet to be felt partly because of the pandemic and also as the local offer site has only just been revised.
“There are some gaps in the waiting list for collaborative assessment and management of suicidality (CAMS), the identification of children with social, emotional mental health needs.
“You’ve a chronic shortage of educational psychologists which is impacting on your ability to meet the timeliness of targets around statutory assessment.
“So you’ve been reaching out to fill that gap, which is one we’ve got unfortunately across the system.
“Joint commissioning is still developing in CBC,” she added. “Colleagues across education, health and social care are sharing information better.
“But there’s still more work to do around aligning outcomes and systems thinking, as well as some of the conversations I’ve heard today about getting better value for money.
“And harnessing a shared narrative is important. That vision, that narrative is critical. The co-production charter is clear, well designed and developed.
“Health commissioning and its participation agenda has significantly increased and improved since the last inspection. That again will take a while to cascade out.
“We’ve got no time to waste,” she warned. “We’ve got to make sure we pull out all the stops to give our young people the best possible outcomes and life chances.
“And make sure more families know about the SNAP parent forum because they will benefit from that connection with other parents, as well as that leadership it can give.
“We do know 70 per cent of parents surveyed by SNAP recently hadn’t heard of the local offer, so that’s not a good statistic and certainly one to improve.”
She acknowledged there’s a larger resource “to develop the offer“, saying: “We’re seeing evidence of improvement over education health care plans (EHCPs) since January.
“There’ll be delays in improving the quality of that with the absence of educational psychology advice and support.”
CBC’s deputy director of children’s services Sarah Ferguson said: “It’s been good timing as a check and balance of where we are as a system, providing the external challenge and validation on the journey we’re on.
“It’s a checkpoint for what we need to do more of and what we need to do differently.“