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(UK) Devon: Parents protest; 'significant weaknesses' in SPED program


 Feb 12, 2024, Crediton Courier: Protesters gathered at County Hall to push for special educational needs improvements

 

SW England


PROTESTORS calling for Devon to significantly improve its under-pressure special educational needs (SEND) service have described their struggles to get help at a protest outside Exeter’s County Hall.


The Devon SEND Parents and Carers for Change group held its second protest in two years over what it calls a “dire provision” for young people with special educational needs or disabilities.


An inspection by education regulator Ofsted in 2022 said the county had “not made sufficient progress in addressing any of the significant weaknesses”.


It added that in spite of a new strategy launched in 2020, it “fundamentally fails to address the significant weaknesses that were apparent at the previous inspection and are still evident now”.


Lee Farrell, from Upottery, said his 10-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety five years ago.


“We’ve been battling for two years and three months now with [Devon’s SEND service] to give some support for our daughter,” he said.


“This council has been classed as inadequate for five years. I would like to see the Department of Education remove educational services from this council and take them over themselves. They’re not fit for purpose.”


Another protester who gave her name as Helen, a 56 year-old from Exeter, has two children had special educational needs.


“My oldest son is 15 now and ever since he started school I’ve spent the whole time trying to get support in place and trying to make Devon County Council fulfil their legal obligations,” she said.


“They blatantly break the law and nobody holds them to account.”…


Councillor Lois Samuel (Conservative, Okehampton Rural), cabinet member responsible for the service since last summer, said improvements are being made across the service.


“The scale of the challenge locally and nationally is significant, and the improvement journey that we’re on in Devon will take time, working in close partnership with the NHS, schools, and importantly with parents and carers,” she said.


“Our priority right now is to make sure that pupils who need additional support are identified at the earliest opportunity and receive the right support at the right time and in the right place….


Ofsted’s 2022 report noted that the number of children and young people waiting for an autism spectrum disorder assessment had fallen, but that those seeking this service “still wait too long”.


It said at the time: “There are almost 2,000 children and young people on the waiting list and almost half of these have been waiting for over a year.


“These numbers do not capture the whole picture of need. Parents describe battles to get onto the waiting list and there is a separate service for children under five years old.”


Devon County Council said it had hired a new director of SEND improvement, Kellie Knott, at the same time Cllr Samuel took her post, and that together, the pair were overseeing improvements to the service.


A council spokesperson said: “Educational Psychologists (EPs) are now working in 100 schools to identify children with special educational needs and disabilities and to help schools support pupils as early as possible. . . .


The authority added the number of children waiting for an education, health and care needs assessment (EHCNA) had “reduced significantly” in recent months.


It is also seeking more financial support from the government for further education support, and is engaging with Essex County Council, its “improvement partner”, learning from that authority about better ways of working.


New funding has also been secured to support pupils with neurodiverse conditions, such as autism, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) starting in 40 primary schools across Devon, Torbay and Plymouth over the next financial year.. . . 





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