The report was presented by Michele Lucas and Catherine Wilson.
The Chair thought that there were some good provisions in Thurrock and asked if the service had considered to provide the placements themselves. Michele Lucas answered that the report detailed some of the local provisions and that there were currently a number of local provisions in place that worked well. In the main colleges, it was the residential placements that the service could not provide locally as these were more complex SEND cases.
Councillor Anderson noted that the service was good at keeping children within the borough. He questioned whether the number of children placed outside the borough had increased or decreased over the past 5 – 10 years. Michele Lucas explained that the service was seeing more complex SEND cases but the number of children placed outside of the borough remained static. She highlighted that this could change at any time as parents could decide to place their children out of the borough. The service tried to keep children within the borough but in some complex cases, children needed a residential placement.
Nicola Cranch asked how many children were waiting for an EHCP and how long was this process. She also asked how many were completed on time. Andrea Winstone said that there were currently 135 EHCPs in process which usually took 20 weeks from start to finish. There were no late EHCPs this month and the service heavily monitored these. There was not a waiting for an EHCP but there was a waiting time from an EHCP request to publication and last year, the service had over 80% EHCPs on time compared to the national figure of 60%. She said that EHCPs tended to end when education finished for a young person.
Sally Khawaja asked how many EHCPs were refused and how many of these went to appeal. Andrea Winstone said that EHCPs were a two-step process where the request to access came through first and then it was decided whether an EHCP was needed or not. The service would not issue a plan if the child’s needs could be met through SEND support in school. The number of these that went to appeal was under 5%.
Councillor Watson sought further details on the data provided in 3.3. Michele Lucas said that she would send further details via email.
Councillor Watson asked what provision had been provided through Grangewaters and how often these were used. Michele Lucas answered that the service had listened to their post-16 cohort and had identified that outdoor education was a powerful tool particularly for SEND children. A range of programmes had been developed that included class based work and outdoor activities at Grangewaters. The feedback from these programmes had been positive. SEND children used the outdoor facilities twice a week.
Councillor Akinbohun asked how quick were placements offered to children placed outside of the borough. Michele Lucas explained that the service needed to consider whether the child’s needs could be met within the profile of the school and if there was space in that school. Each case was different but the service ensured that children still had access to education. She said that the consultation process could be challenging and that there were not enough school places for the number of children coming into the service.
Councillor Watson questioned the process of deciding where a child would be placed. Michele Lucas explained that where a school felt that they were unable to meet a child’s needs then they would discuss this with the parents. This would then come to the SEND panel to assess. The process relied on a partnership approach.
The Vice-Chair said that he was surprised to see the number of children needing SEND places in Thurrock and was concerned the lack of SEND places available. He asked whether SEND children outside of the borough had to wait for places as well and how many were usually accepted. Michele Lucas answered that the data for this would be circulated via email. She said that Thurrock had two Ofsted rated ‘outstanding’ SEND schools and families moved into the borough because of these schools. The service made families aware that the schools had a waiting list and would need to go through the tribunal process to assess whether their child needed to go to that SEND school. If the assessment showed that the child needed to go to a SEND school, it was a legal requirement for the SEND school to take the child in. This was also the case where the service had to place children outside of the borough.
Councillor Thandi questioned what the teaching was like in SEND schools. Michele Lucas said that there were no issues with the teachers in SEND schools and that the issue was the number of places available. Both of Thurrock’s SEND schools worked hard to main the ‘outstanding’ rating and the schools had their own training programme.
The Chair thought that that out of borough placements were expensive and it was good to see that the service was taking a sensible approach to address the issue with SEND placements. She commented that it was good to have a framework in place. She said that she could not understand why Cabinet had decided that Grangewaters was a surplus to the service’s requirements as the report indicated that this was a part of the provision offered to SEND children. She proposed a new recommendation as 1.3 to address this.
Councillor Anderson and the Vice-Chair agreed recommendation 1.1 and 1.2 but did not agree with the additional recommendation that was 1.3.
1.1 That members reviewed the SEND Sufficiency Assessment and agree the publication of the document.
1.2 That members give approval for the next stage of the procurement process and agree to officers approaching cabinet for approval to proceed to procurement of out of borough placements and were required expand the local provision.
1.3 Members requested that Cabinet reviews their decision to declare Grangewaters as a surplus to SEND provision and to look at further use of Grangewaters to meeting the objectives for SEND provision.