The report, which can be found on pages 73 – 116, was presented by Michele Lucas.
The Chair said it was positive to see the difference in caseloads which had been mentioned at Committee back in February 2020 where there had 250 – 300 caseloads. Regarding agencies working together, he questioned how effective the information sharing and working together across partnerships had been and if this would continue to be effective. Michele Lucas answered that Thurrock had a strong partnership ethos and had a strong partnership with schools, including academies, on SEND improvement. There were a wide range of partners that included schools and health representatives that worked together on the SEND improvements.
Councillor Akinbohun asked how the service were engaging with parents during the pandemic. Michele Lucas answered that engagement had been via virtual meeting platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom. There were also phone calls particularly for parents who did not have access to technology but some schools did make this available. There were a range of mediums in place including an Engagement Officer.
Councillor Muldowney commented that progress had slowed in the SEND action plan because of the dissolution of the CaPa Group and queried the reason for the dissolution. Michele Lucas answered that CaPa’s Chair had done an amazing job but her son had reached the upper age range so may have felt that she could no longer stay in CaPa. The group may have felt there was no natural successor as Chair so had made the decision to disband. Other LAs had experienced similar situations with their parent carer forums but there would now be support from the national infrastructure to develop a new parent carer forum.
Councillor Muldowney also had a letter from CaPa which highlighted the reason for disbanding as they had worked hard to encourage participation in Thurrock and there had been a lack of feedback from the Council particularly since the SEND Ofsted inspection. CaPa had not been able to feedback on the Education Health Care Plans (EHCP) at consultation stage and had not been given additional time to work remotely together with the Council. Councillor Muldowney mentioned Thurrock’s ethos of partnership working and questioned the service’s response to CaPa’s letter. She also felt that the Council’s lack of engagement with CaPa had led to the dissolution and that without CaPa, there would be a delay to the SEND priorities and strategy. She had received feedback from a few families with concerns of engagement and queried the length of time it would take to re-establish a parent participation group.
Michele Lucas answered that CaPa could not continue in the same way without the Chair who had been integral to the group so had disbanded. Referring to the EHCP, she said that a range of partners had been consulted including CaPa who unfortunately were unable to feedback but had not asked for more time on the consultation. Adding to this, Councillor Halden said that the service was grateful for groups such as CaPa and that the Council was obligated to consult other partners to ensure a diversity of engagement. Sheila Murphy explained that the service worked hard to engage with families in the SEND service and that the dissolution of CaPa was sad but the service had a number of ways to engage with families. The service had dedicated resources for engagement and the service would be happy to meet with groups of parents who were not satisfied with the service and highlighted the importance of engagement as it helped the service to develop and improve.
Referring to page 98, Councillor Muldowney sought clarification on why actions B and C were not coded red. She also asked if the areas with an October 2020 deadline were achievable. Michele Lucas answered that actions B and C was amber as there had been some stakeholder consultation on the indicators in the dashboard and was awaiting to engage with a group of parents. Actions were being undertaken which the service was aiming to complete within the time frames. There was an overarching strategy on engagement that included a range of action plans within it. Adding to this, Sheila Murphy said that operational and strategic groups reviewed the actions to identify potential issues which would be managed with multi agency groups.
Referring to the Area of Concern 1, Councillor Muldowney asked for an example of what the discernible difference would be for SEND families. Michele Lucas answered that the realignment of the Senior Management Team had given a greater oversight to the service and ensured that the EHCP process time frames were met. The service was above national and regional figures on the completion of the EHCP process and the service ensured that they knew their specialist provision through engagement as highlighted from Ofsted.
Referring to the SEND Data Integration Project on page 95, Councillor Okunade commented that the online EHCP would help to speed up the process of developing EHCP especially in the current pandemic and questioned the process of the online EHCP. Michele Lucas explained that the project was in three stages and that the first stage involved integrating SEND and education data together which was now live so it enabled a single view for teams across education and skills in the Council. The second stage was the development of the portal in which would have a longer time frame due to the complex integration work to be done. The service was finalising the time scale to get the portal live and progress to the third stage.
Councillor Okunade questioned how parents would be trained to use the portal. Michele Lucas answered that groups of parents and young people would be brought in to work with the service on the EHCP portal who were an important part of the system.
Referring to EHCP applications from parents, Sally Khawaja mentioned that the service’s refusal letter did not detail how a parent could appeal the decision and felt that parents had a right to appeal. There was no link provided so made the process more complicated. She also questioned if the service would contact those parents who had received the refusal letters and outline the steps to a tribunal. Sheila Murphy answered that this would be investigated including the paperwork from those parents with refusal letters and an outcome would be provided to Committee. Lynda Pritchard commented that the letter should guide parents on what to do as every parent had a right to a tribunal although mediation was the best way forward to ensure a better working partnership.
O&S to scrutinise the work that has been undertaken during this period and offer challenge and support.