Inspectors praise Havering’s special needs provision but borough boss insists ‘there is still work to do’

Special needs pupils are “at risk” and “do not make tangible progress” at SHC (So He Cares), located

Special needs pupils are at risk and do not make tangible progress at SHC (So He Cares), located in St Elisabeth church hall in Valence Wood Road, Dagenham. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Health and education inspectors have praised some aspects of Havering’s services for children with special educational needs (SEN), but conclude there is still room for improvement.

From February 26 to March 2 this year, a team of six Ofsted and Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors met with staff teams, children and parents, and also visited schools and health settings across the borough that work with SEN children.

In a letter to Havering’s head of children’s services, Tim Aldridge, Ofsted inspector Brian Oppenheim outlined his team’s findings.

Among the borough’s strengths were its safeguarding protocols – every child spoken to by inspectors had been well informed on how to stay safe at all times.

In some areas, such as the way in which the council works with voluntary sector workers and parent organisations, Havering’s innovations were also praised.

In addition to this, the use of “Hospital Passport” and “Tell It Once” protocols across Havering have made life easier for parents as they no longer had to repeat the same medical information every time they met a new healthcare professional.

The report noted that this new system had made life much easier for those parents who did not speak English as a first language, although it was highlighted that in some areas non-English speakers were not being supported thoroughly enough.

Most Read

In general, it was noted that young people using the borough’s SEN services were generally happy with the level of support they received, and felt that levels of staff training were adequate.

However, inspectors also found a number of weaknesses.

Chief among them was the fear among parents that meetings with support staff had become “tick box” exercises, while the report was also critical of Havering’s belief in young people, describing services as “not aspirational enough”.

One key drawback was that “a significant minority” of parents had faced delays to access services such as occupational therapy, and had even suffered long waits for their child’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan – a legal document that precisely outlines the extra help each SEN child requires.

Further shortcomings were found in the borough’s co-production method – a system whereby parents, children and professionals are meant to collaborate to reach a final decision on the best course of action in any given scenario.

This, the report concluded, means that “parents feel they have little input into the support provided for their children.”

It was also pointed out that nearly one third of the borough’s secondary schools are Inadequate or Require Improvement, meaning too many SEN pupils are not receiving a good enough education.

Parents also told inspectors they felt like their child did not get enough specialised SEN support at school, while a number of parents of autistic children were critical of the amount of post-diagnosis support they received from Havering Council.

Technologically, inspectors were also disappointed that there was not a standardised or common computer system across different social, medical and children’s departments.

This had led to parents suffering delays in the transference of the child’s medical information.

Cllr Robert Benham, cabinet member for children and learning, said: “Ofsted’s findings reinforce that Havering is now in a place where we have an accurate view of our strengths and weaknesses in the borough.

“We will continue to develop the reforms to put children and young people at the centre of planning for their future. We always aim for higher quality and consistency of SEND provision for the children and young people in Havering.”

In a letter to the borough’s parents and carers of SEN children, Caroline Penfold, the head of Havering’s services for children and adults with disabilities, said that the report’s results were “broadly positive” and insisted the council was “very pleased” that the work it had done in connecting services had been recognised by inspectors.

She added: “The inspection has served as a very useful exercise which reinforced our approach to co-produce more, to engage and involve all partners when planning support, including parents and young people.

“Our changes to systems and processes have started to have an impact on outcomes for children but there is more work to do.”