Please find below a statement from OxPCF: This statement provides, and relates to, the local authority’s response to our report “Children with SEND who are not currently accessing education in Oxfordshire”. This report was published on 21st October 2022, and can be found here This statement also addresses the discussion around SEND that took place at The People Overview and Scrutiny Committee Meeting, which took place on 12th January 2023 and can be viewed here
Oxfordshire Parent Carers Forum Statement
Oxfordshire County Council response to Report “Children with SEND who are not currently accessing education in Oxfordshire 2022” and The People Overview and Scrutiny Committee Meeting 12th January 2023
Our comments regarding Oxfordshire County Council’s response to our report
Our comments regarding statements made at The People Overview and Scrutiny Committee Meeting relating to ‘parental choice’ education placements
Our comments regarding the aim of inclusion in mainstream education for children with SEND, unless their needs are exceptional
Our comments regarding misrepresentation surrounding the relationship between OxPCF and the SEND Parent Action Group, including their involvement in our report
Our comments regarding misrepresentation relating to the function and activity of OxPCF as an organisation
Our request for each of the recommendations in our report to be individually reviewed and publicly responded to
Our request to participate in the upcoming SEND specific People Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting, and our request for school leaders from mainstream Education to receive an invitation to share their views with the Committee
Report: “Children with SEND who are not currently accessing education in Oxfordshire 2022” (Click on the link to view the report)
Oxfordshire Parent Carers Forum (OxPCF) were pleased to receive an update from Hayley Good, Deputy Director of Education at Oxfordshire County Council last week regarding Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) as part of a wider newsletter for parent carers. We thank Hayley for providing this to us and in turn, the parent carer community. (See appendix 1 for the response)
The update, as requested by the Department of Education, addressed our report “Children with SEND who are not currently accessing education in Oxfordshire 2022”, published in October 2022.
Whilst we were pleased to receive an acknowledgement of this important piece of work, we were disappointed to note the only comments relating to the actual content of the report focused on the fact that our sample size of case studies and survey were small. At the time of publishing in our covering email, we focused on this point ourselves and explained that it was a short study into the subject. It was a ‘tip of the iceberg’ overview if you like. We also offered to run further and longer-term research to provide a much more comprehensive review on this topic. We did not receive a response to this offer.
An interesting point to note was the update’s focus on just one of the many survey statistics which states, in order to ‘provide appropriate context’: “88% of the responses stated that ASD was the SEN for their child; this is a considerably higher proportion than for the SEN population in Oxfordshire as a whole”. We accept that this may be the case. We were only able to accurately report the result from the responses that our survey received during the short period that it was run.
However, we note that in the recent report on SEND Finances produced by Kevin Gordon (Corporate Director of Children’s Services) for the People Overview and Scrutiny Committee Meeting which took place on 12th January, it is confirmed at point 14 that “at almost 60% the most common primary need for children and young people with an EHC Plan in Oxfordshire is an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). This cohort is growing faster than any other.” Whilst clearly, there is a marked difference between ‘almost 60%’ and ‘88%’ it is still widely indicative that ASD, particularly when it is combined with other very common co-occurring neurodevelopmental conditions make up a significant proportion of the SEND population in Oxfordshire. We are unsure why just this one, very specific, figure in a fifty-page report was chosen to ‘provide appropriate context’ and as an area for such specific focus in the local authority’s response, but are confident in our reported statistics and the general conclusions reached.
Whilst context, transparency and accuracy are vital, taking the opportunity to dissect just one single figure in our lengthy and detailed report in the local authority’s response appears to be missing the opportunity to take on board the wider content of the report. It misses the opportunity to use the feedback provided to connect with and learn from the families whose struggles and lived experiences have been documented, as well as the wider parent carer community. It misses an opportunity to engage in a positive and constructive future relationship. Parent carers, based on the engagement that we have with them daily, do not wish to work in opposition to the professionals who are responsible for their children’s education. They would welcome the opportunity to work with them. We urge the local authority to not miss the opportunity to engage positively, in quibbling over detail.
It is also disappointing to note that though the fifteen case studies were, truly, distressing and alarming read, the response did not acknowledge or address the lived experience of these families. We appreciate that the local authority is unable to make public comments on individual cases. However; the distinct lack of acknowledgement, empathy or compassion exhibited for these families’ lived experiences is illustrative of the widespread and damaging culture that families of children with SEND endure on a daily basis.
The People Overview and Scrutiny Committee Meeting 12th January 2023
OxPCF was pleased to note that SEND Finance was an agenda item at the People Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting, the recording of which is available on the local authority’s website. We reviewed the meeting and the ‘SEND Finances’ report produced by Kevin Gordon with interest. They provided a comprehensive and enlightening view of the current position in Oxfordshire, the overall culture and aims, and the exceptionally challenging financial situation that the local authority is facing. We appreciate that the SEND Finances report acknowledges at point 28 “The outcomes for children and young people with SEND in Oxfordshire are not good enough”.
The financial challenges faced by our local authority are not unique to Oxfordshire. They are a nationwide problem that must be addressed. Evidently central government funding, though steadily increasing, is not nearly keeping up with the ever-increasing demands placed on the local authority to meet the needs to children with SEND. The lack of specialist provision in the county is causing enormous expenditure on out of county and often independent placements. We note the comments made to the Committee that frequently, at Tribunal, these places are provided based on ‘parental preference.’
OxPCF engages with parent carers of children with SEND as our most central function. Every member of our organisation is a parent carer of a child or children with SEND. We can be very confident in stating that parent carers do not, out of choice, simply choose to access Tribunal (a very long and stressful legal process) and send their children to costly independent out of county schools. It is categorically not their preference to do so. Parent carers want their child to be educated in a setting that truly meets their child’s needs. It is always going to be preferable that it is local, within the child’s own community.
In an ideal world, all children would be able to have their needs met by their local mainstream state school. Most parent carers would choose that, with the ease and convenience of such things like the child being educated at the same setting as their sibling/s, or the parent carer being able to easily drop off and collect the child themselves, over the protracted process of obtaining a place at an independent and/or out of county placement. Parent carers really do not wish to place their (for example) primary aged child with SEND in a taxi for up to 90 minutes a day, even if this is funded by the local authority, so that they can receive an education.
It is misleading to indicate that these choices are choices at all. Parent carers may indeed express a preference for an independent and/or out of county school at Tribunal, but this will only be because it is that specific school that is able to best meet their child’s needs. This is usually after one (or several) attempts at a mainstream education in various schools have failed because the mainstream school(s) prove unable meet their child’s needs.
The decision on placement ultimately rests with the Tribunal Judge, not the child’s parent. Any decision made by a Tribunal Judge will meet with the requirements of the law. The law is applicable nationally. It is not a set of arbitrary rules that local authorities must merely have regard to, or in consideration of.
It provides a legal entitlement to protection, allowances, adjustments and additional resource for children with SEND. Adherence to it is vital to ensure the protection of (and appropriate educational provision for) some of the most vulnerable children in our society. It is misleading to insinuate the parent carers can simply just ‘choose’ to send their children to these prohibitively expensive placements. Parent carers are not to blame for the lack of ability in mainstream schools to meet their child’s needs.
A focus of the meeting was the continued aim of inclusion in mainstream education for as many children with SEND as possible, with placement at special schools being reserved for those with extremely profound special educational needs, learning disabilities and/or medical conditions. We are aware that the local authority has been carrying out a promising pilot project to expand enhanced provision within a small number of mainstream schools in the county to increase the ability of these schools to meet the needs of children with SEND. OxPCF requested information from the local authority in December 2022 regarding the pilot project, and is in the process of arranging to meet with leaders to further understand and engage with it. It is also encouraging to understand that all new mainstream schools will have SEND resource bases included as part of their build.
Regardless of a promising pilot project and plans for future (as yet, unbuilt) schools with resource bases, we must not lose sight of the fact that mainstream education is not right for all children with SEND. That includes some of the children who do not have extremely profound special educational needs, learning disabilities and/or medical conditions. We hear from parents frequently whose children have attended several mainstream schools, each of which has proved unable to meet their children’s needs. We hear from parent carers whose children have been so traumatised by their experiences in mainstream school(s) that they are no longer able to access a traditional school setting at all.
We are aware that our schools are in an extremely difficult position, with even those who demonstrate the very best of endeavours regarding SEND often unable to provide the level of provision that a child needs. They are unable to recruit the staff that they need, to provide those staff with specialised training, and to provide the additional spaces and resources that the children need because they simply do not have the availability in their budgets. Additional ‘top-up’ funding is of course provided by the local authority via an EHCP. However, schools are still required to fund special educational provisions to approximately the value of £6000 for each child with SEND before receiving such a ‘top up’ via an EHCP. Additionally, a funded hour on an EHCP falls short of the minimum hourly rate to (for example) employ even a non-specialised teaching assistant. Unless swift and significant improvements are made to provide an adequate level of funding to mainstream schools, inclusion in mainstream education to all but those with the very most profound SEND needs will remain an impossible task to achieve. In the interim, all children in schools will continue to be impacted by various levels of unmet needs in the classroom.
The aim of inclusion in mainstream education for all children except for those with extremely profound special educational needs, learning disabilities and/or medical conditions spectacularly misses the point made by so many families that we speak to, many of those whose children are within Oxfordshire’s SEND ‘fastest growing cohort.’ It disregards those children who will never meet the criteria for one of these specialist placements as a result of them having little or no learning difficulties or disabilities. Many families find themselves in a position where they struggle to get their child’s needs met (or even acknowledged, initially) because their children are cognitively and/or academically able. Some are even advanced in this respect. Still, regardless of their cognitive function and academic ability, the nature and challenges of their SEND means that they are unable to function, focus, learn or participate in a mainstream classroom environment even with significant levels of support provided via an EHCP.
Whilst it is encouraging to hear of the local authority’s enhanced provision pilot trials, and new schools having resource bases built in to accommodate these children and meet their needs; this does not help those children who are struggling to access the curriculum or cope in a school environment that is unable to meet their needs (or who are in fact already at home, unable to access their school at all) right now. Today. Forcing these children to remain in/on roll at a mainstream school that cannot meet their needs has a devastating and wide-ranging impact. On the child, their families, on the other children in the classroom, and on the school staff. It also has a significant impact on both health and social care services.
Councillor Waine, during the meeting directly asked (more than once) that the recommendations set out in our October report be looked at and responded to. His requests were roundly disregarded, and following his second request it was incorrectly indicated that OxPCF and the recently formed “SEND Parent Action Group” (which recently carried out an in-person protest in Oxford and has engaged with the media) are the same, or are linked organisations. This was later clarified during a different discussion. To confirm, they are not.
There was a misrepresentation during the meeting that our report’s case studies came from the SEND Parent Action Group with Hayley Good stating that report case studies “included, I think some of the children of the parent protest group.” This is incorrect. To be clear; the research, case studies and survey were all collected and carried out before the SEND Parent Action Group was formed. The case studies were provided to the author of the report on the basis that the identities of the families who bravely shared their lived experiences would be confidential. They have remained so. Only the author of the report is aware of the identities of the families. It would have been impossible to collect them from the SEND Parent Action Group when, at the time, it did not exist. We collected the case studies directly from parent carers as individuals following a post on our closed Facebook page (The Oxfordshire SEND Room), where we invited them to share their experiences.
OxPCF and the SEND Parent Action Group are entirely independent of each other as organisations. Whilst we liaise with its appointed members to assist in their liaison with the local authority, we do not run, advise, organise, or work on behalf of them. If we approached their members directly for input on a particular subject this would be clearly set out in the end report in the same way that we reference our work with other organisations (examples of which can be found on our website). We do share a common aim, to improve the outcomes for children with SEND in Oxfordshire.
In the confusion relating to OxPCF, the SEND Parent Action Group and our report, further commentary was provided by Cllr Brighouse seemingly to provide clarity on the function of OxPCF. Unfortunately, there seems to have been some incorrect information provided, that we would like to clarify.
Following the attempted noting for the minutes that requests had been made by Cllr Waine for a review and response to the recommendations in our report to be provided, Cllr Brighouse stated that he was in fact:
“..’talking about the people who came into council [The SEND Parent Action Group] rather than the parent carers forum. Our parent carers forum is very well integrated into decision making and working in co-production and around all of that. I think Michael [Cllr Waine] is talking about a group of parents – unless you’ve managed to get them into the parent carers forum. So the parent carers forum is actually integrated into the implementation stuff around the strategy, they sit on various management boards etc, so they are engaged in writing the policies. I think that’s really important to know.”
OxPCF do not engage in writing policy. Nor do we make decisions, or implement strategy. We do endeavour to work co-productively with the local authority (sitting on various strategic boards) and other organisations and ensure that we provide regular feedback so that the voice of parent carers in Oxfordshire are heard, and acted upon.
We reiterate Cllr Waine’s request for a review of and direct, public responses to each of the recommendations in our report. These were as follows:
Commit to improving communication with families, to ensure that they receive transparent and accurate information at all stages of the process including regular updates and responses to telephone calls/emails
Commit to actively listening to and engaging with families, taking into account their views and wishes and using them to construct positive outcomes wherever possible
Commit to adherence to statutory timeframes for EHC needs applications, assessments, plans and subsequent annual reviews and plans amendments
Review current local policy and procedure to ensure compliance with SEND law, followed by an annual audit and other measures such as regular quality-monitoring spot checks to ensure continued compliance by all staff
Review SEND training provided to schools to ensure its adequacy and make improvements where necessary. All teaching staff and teaching assistants should receive comprehensive SEND training with additional more specialised sessions which are targeted, based on the needs of the child or children in the classroom
Commit to a longer-term project to promote a culture change in schools to include a shift towards positive early intervention and more inclusive environments. Evidently, there are too many schools who demonstrate an outdated and unhelpful attitude to children with SEND. This must change
Commit to providing comprehensive training to Senior Leadership Teams and SENDCos in schools to ensure their full understanding of the statutory obligations placed on them, and the local authority, to children with SEND
Review the support offered to children and families where they are in the position that the child is not receiving or participating in education for whatever reason. At present, there does not appear to be any readily available
Review the education provision provided by the local authority when a child is unable to attend their school. At present, some children are entirely without any education for extended periods if they are not able to attend. This is unacceptable, unlawful, and catastrophic for the children
Improve access to specialist provision. If a child must remain in an ‘unsuitable’ mainstream setting whilst they wait for a place to become available for them, then a commitment must be made to ensure that ‘above and beyond’ measures are taken to meet their needs in the interim. Additional support by way of further funding, training, outsourcing and assistance in the recruitment of specialist staff if needed should also be provided to the setting
Accept that for some children, alternative provision or EOTAS is the best outcome for them and where this is the case act swiftly to ensure they are being educated in the way that works for them, as soon as they can be
We understand that a SEND specific meeting will be held by The People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee in the near future. We request to attend and participate. We also request that school leaders from primary, secondary and post-16 mainstream Education (such as members of the OSSHTA) are invited to attend. We feel that this would be extremely valuable and enable Counsellors to have a wider ranging, and therefore more accurate view of the current situation in Oxfordshire faced by families and schools. Allowing parent carers who are not part of OxPCF as individuals to attend and speak would also add value, providing lived experience of their families directly.
OxPCF values its working relationships with all organisations. We look forward to continuing to work co-productively and positively with all partners, including the local authority, to improve the outcomes for all children with SEND in Oxfordshire.
Appendix 1: Response from Hayley Good on behalf of Oxfordshire County Council in regards to our report: Children with SEND who are not currently accessing education in Oxfordshire 2022 (please click on link to view)
Response to OxPCF “Report on children with SEND who are not currently accessing education in Oxfordshire 2022”
Our ambition is for those with children and young people with SEND to have rich and fulfilling lives at the heart of their communities. This means improving the outcomes and lived experiences of children and young people with SEND by providing the right support and opportunities at the right time. Given the current national and local context across education, health and social care, including the lasting effects of the pandemic, this is a challenging agenda but one that we must collectively embrace together if we are to see the improvements that we all want.
Alongside our schools, we strive to make suitable arrangements for every child with SEN, in particular those with an EHC Plan. Every individual child is important. There are currently approximately 20,000 children in Oxfordshire identified as having SEN; just over 5,500 of those have an EHC Plan.
We recognise that many of the issues highlighted in the OxPCF report overlap with the concerns raised at the public protest in November 2022 and the seven associated petitions and that the report is based on a survey with 28 responses and 15 case studies.
From the survey responses, just under three quarters have an EHC Plan indicating that the responses represent 0.37% of all of those in Oxfordshire with an EHC Plan. 88% of responses stated that ASD was the SEN for their child; this is a considerably higher proportion than for the SEN population in Oxfordshire as a whole. Neither observation questions the validity of the report, we consider all feedback to be extremely valuable, but it is important to place the conclusions and recommendations within the appropriate context.
We wish to provide assurance that we continue to take all parental concerns very seriously and look forward to working collaboratively with parents and carers to make the necessary changes to deliver on our shared ambition for children and young people in Oxfordshire with SEND
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