Services to support children in Gloucestershire with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and their families are heading in the right direction but still need to improve further, according to a new report published today.

Ofsted and Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors recognised the range of improvements made by Gloucestershire’s Local Area Partnership, whilst also highlighting the need to do more to make sure experiences and outcomes are more consistent for all children and young people with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities).

The partnership, which is a joint responsibility of Gloucestershire County Council and NHS Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board, was inspected by Ofsted and the CQC between 11 December and 15 December 2023.

Whilst improvements have been recognised, inspectors found that the Local Area Partnership does not yet have arrangements that lead to consistent experiences and outcomes for every child and young person with special needs. Ofsted and the CQC have said that the Local Area Partnership must work jointly to make further improvements, though they recognise that the county council and NHS Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board are already committed to doing that.

Inspectors said the service had improved and pointed to recent investment and the shared vision of excellence among its leadership as factors in this. The local area’s strategic plans are ambitious and designed to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND in Gloucestershire.

Inspectors praised the partnership’s recent investment of £10 million into services to support children and young people with additional needs, which is already showing benefits for families across the county. The additional staff and improved systems were found to be making a difference to the experiences of children and families. Inspectors found that timely and effective identification of children and young people’s needs was too variable, but recognise that progress is being made in many areas.

The report pointed to the opening of Brook Academy, a £9.5 million special school in Brockworth, as showing the county’s commitment to providing the additional specialist places needed for children in Gloucestershire.

As part of its plans to address this need and enable children to get a high-quality education in the communities where they live, the council recently created Sladewood Academy, a 60-place specialist primary school for children with Moderate and Additional Learning Difficulties (MALD), which welcomed its first students in September.  It has already committed £16.5 million for a new 200-place special school in Gloucester, which is set to open in 2026. These are all part of a £30 million investment which will further meet the needs for additional special school places in Gloucestershire.

Progress has already been achieved in the areas inspectors found needed further improvement, including a need to identify individual needs sooner, reducing waiting times for some services, more seamless working between organisations, and ensuring the voice of children, young people and families is better reflected in services. The partnership has recently introduced a graduated pathway of early help and support which is designed to identify needs sooner and make it easier for families to access the support they need at the right time.  It has expanded its special educational needs team to help families access help through the Local Offer, SENDIASS, Educational Psychology, Autism and ADHD services.

The report states that leaders recognise that working together across health, social care and education is key to improving the experiences of children, young people and their families, and the partnership has existing plans in place to strengthen this. Furthermore, timely and effective identification of children and young people’s needs was found to be improving by inspectors.

All partners are committed to listening and learning from the experiences of children, young people, and families and their feedback has been used to update and strengthen Gloucestershire’s Local Offer. Created in partnership with parents, young people, the council and NHS, the refreshed Glosfamilies Directory and ‘Support for families with special educational needs SEND’ (Gloucestershire’s Local Offer), is a one stop shop for everything families need to know about childcare, education, activities, and support in their area.

Cllr Philip Robinson, Cabinet member responsible for education at Gloucestershire County Council, said:

“I am pleased that inspectors have seen the improvements that staff across the partnership have been working so hard to achieve. We welcome their guidance to help us further improve services.

“We are committed to making sure all children and young people receive the right support, at the right time from the local area partnership of education, care and health, so they can develop the skills they need to thrive.

“We recognise that not everybody’s experience has been as they would have wished and we know the areas where we need to make improvements and we are already moving in the right direction. The local partnership is working hard to make these improvements happen as quickly as possible.”

Mary Hutton, Chief Executive at NHS Gloucestershire, said:

“I’m pleased that the report acknowledges the improvements made, and that inspectors recognise our partnership has a clear vision and ambition to achieve excellence.

“We know that there is more work to do, and we are committed to working closely with our families to ensure they are listened to, as we continue to improve and deliver the best possible services for the children and young people we serve.”

The partnership will be working to further develop its strategic plan based on the recommendations within the report, to ensure it continues to improve.