A report from our disability officer:
OFSTED and the CQC arrived in Norfolk on Monday to carry out a long anticipated joint Local Area Inspection of Special Educational Needs and / or Disability services. Norfolk is one of the last areas to be visited following the announcement of a new framework for inspecting Health and Education SEND provision in 2016.
As the week long inspection draws to a close, Norfolk parents have widely criticised Norfolk County Council’s failure to publicise opportunities for parents to participate in the process. Parents rightly wanted make their significant concerns about the county’s SEND provision crisis heard and make sure these were clearly reflected in the report and outcome of the inspection.
Contributors across social media have spoken of their frustration and anger at the poor communication from Norfolk County Council about the watchdog’s visit, one saying “NCC have details of everyone with an EHCP and schools know all families on their SEN register…they could easily of contacted families if they had wanted to.”
Other parents highlighted the insensitive and inappropriate timing of the one session arranged for parents to talk directly to OFSTED and CQC Inspectors. The forum was held in the afternoon between 1-2pm meaning families were under pressure to leave in time to collect children from school or be home in time for the arrival of SEND transport providers.
Many focused on the fact that the only chance to participate in person took place in Norwich which was a shameful injustice and inequality for parents in other areas of the county. SEND service provision varies widely within the county and this was key to reflect in the inspection report. One parent who did attend the meeting said, “..it felt more like an afterthought, what honestly was an hour going to give them insight into?” Others spoke of their frustration at not being able to contribute due to the inadequate amount of time allocated to the event.
During the hour long session parent after parent spoke powerfully about their family’s experiences; stories were extremely traumatic and difficult to hear and the bravery of those speaking was a testimony to the resilience and determination of families to fight for their children. The overarching theme was of a failure across education and health to assess and provide for the needs of SEND pupils in Norfolk with the Council spending more time and energy battling with parents at all stages of the EHCP process than fulfilling its statutory duty to improve life outcomes.
Families spoke with desperation about the stress and exhaustion of having to threaten to or take the Local Authority to Tribunal and many related how reports from professionals highlighting a need for provision were refused or dismissed.
Following a Freedom of Information request it was revealed that Norfolk County Council had spent £600,000 on legal costs between 2010-2016. Families demanded to know why this money had been wasted on Barristers when it should have been spent on services for their vulnerable children. A Mum relayed that when she challenged her EHCP Co-ordinator over the provision in her child’s plan, the professional yelled down the telephone, “If you don’t like it, take us to Tribunal!”
Mental Health services waiting lists, waiting lists for diagnosis, lack of Speech and Language therapy and Occupational Therapy, lack of social care and failure to ensure positive outcomes for young adults with SEND were common themes. One single Mum told of how she had spent 17 months waiting for vital respite and another spoke powerfully about the future for her daughter of 24, “It feels like everything is theoretical and a tick box exercise with no intention of carrying it out and no accountability when it doesn’t happen.”
We await the final inspection report with tentative hope that it may have some positive impact on the lives of the most vulnerable families in Norfolk, one Mum echoing many people’s thoughts by saying, “I just hope that all the information we did [manage] to give will force Norfolk County Council to stand up and take note and most of all, change their ways!”