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(UK) Birmingham: "Vital improvements needed for thousands of vulnerable children"

Nov 30, 2022, Birmingham Mail: Government fixer warns he will force SEND changes in Brum as he slams 'political obstruction'

S. central England

The Government commissioner sent in to fix Birmingham's failing services for children with special educational needs and disabilities has sent an extraordinary email to council executives and senior councillors, rebuking them. In it, he warns the vital improvements needed for thousands of vulnerable children are being 'obstructed' by 'political elements'. In no uncertain terms, John Coughlan demands an end to these 'political behaviours', or warns he will use his powers to impose change. His broadside comes a year after he was appointed by then Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi to take over SEND services in the city and fix ‘persistent and extreme failings’. He was parachuted in after a damning report by regulators ruled the council had failed to act on failings first flagged three years earlier. It was the first time the Government has taken such a dramatic step to protect vulnerable kids and gave them - through the commissioner - full oversight and control of the council's improvement plan.

The focus of his ire in the email seen by BirminghamLive is the response from councillors to a planned overhaul of the free and confidential SENDIASS service (SEND Information, Advice and Support Service) in Birmingham as part of improvements…. "SENDIASS has supported hundreds of parents a year in Birmingham who have successfully challenged city council and health service decisions about the care their child needs. It would be a travesty if this service was sidelined or downgraded without further discussion."

The SENDIASS service is funded by the council as an independent service for parents and families. Its functions include supporting families who wish to seek information and includes helping parents who want to challenge decisions made about their children, their access to support and the provision of EHCPs (Education and Health Care Plans).

Mr Coughlan, however, describes further discussion as 'inappropriate'. In his email he writes: “I am now convinced that the scale and nature of the extensive political relationships with SENDIASS here are not only inappropriate to a functioning SENDIASS service but have substantially contributed to the wider SEND failings and to the painfully and damagingly slow progress of your wider improvement."

He particularly criticises the decision of the council’s children’s overview and scrutiny committee to further discuss the independent review findings, having already done so twice….

His letter concludes with an unmistakeable reality check: “The SENDIASS review has been accepted in its entirety by the Improvement Board (set up to oversee the SEND improvements) and me. It must now lead to an immediate and radical reform of SENDIASS to deliver compliance and proportionality.

“The current arrangements will stop. If I am not satisfied that can be achieved with the appropriate support and leadership of the membership of the council then it will be done without. That will include if necessary the outsourcing of SENDIASS, again preferably with the LA’s cooperation, but without it if necessary.

“I have started consulting with the Department for Education accordingly but I do hope for the sake of the wider improvement that won’t be necessary.”…

Birmingham city council pictured in October 2022

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