Labour call on Conservative councillor to resign after special needs failings revealed

Nottinghamshire County Council offices, in West Bridgford
By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter

The Labour Party at Nottinghamshire County Council have called on the Conservative member for children’s services to resign after a damning Ofsted report revealed failings in special needs services.

An inspection of services for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) found “widespread failings”.

Nottinghamshire County Council and NHS Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care Board (ICB) are responsible for arranging services for children and young people with Special educational needs and disabilities – known as SEND – in Nottinghamshire.

The service was inspected in an unannounced visit by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) over three days from the end of January to the start of February this year.

Following the report, the Labour Party at County Hall say that the Conservative cabinet should take responsibility for the findings.

Labour’s opposition spokesperson for Children and Families, Councillor Michelle Welsh, said the Conservative cabinet member for Children and Young People, Tracey Taylor, should stand down.

And Councillor Francis Purdue-Horan, education spokesperson for the Independent Alliance, said the Conservatives “need to take political accountability”.

But Cllr Taylor said the council was “well under way” with making improvements under the guidance of a new improvement board.

The Nottinghamshire SEND Partnership Improvement Board has been established to oversee the improvement actions, which will be chaired independently by Dame Christine Lenehan, Director of the Council for Disabled Children.

The inspection found children and young people are waiting too long to receive specialist educational health care assessments (EHCs) and specialist help such as speech and language therapy.

Some children with complex needs are waiting as long as 37 weeks.

Colin Pettigrew and Amanda Sullivan

But Colin Pettigrew, Director of Children’s and Families Services at Nottinghamshire County Council, said there has been a doubling of demand for EHC plans.

He said: “That comes together with demand across the country in recruiting into some of these specialists posts, particularly of education psychologists. The code of practice requires the need to be signed off by an education psychologist.

“So there’s a lag between the increase in demand and the capacity to meet that demand.”

He added that he was “sorry that too many families have waited too long”.

Cllr Welsh told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the report was “not a surprise to the Labour Group”.

She said she was told that the council would launch a review into EHC plans in January, but she has not yet seen any report.

She said families were being “ignored and let down” by the Conservatives.

She added: “We have raised SEND issues time and time again on behalf of families we represent in Council meetings over the last year, and have been met with nothing but excuses from a Conservative leadership unwilling to challenge their own government on the issue.

“Our ultimate priority is the welfare of children and families in Nottinghamshire, who are currently being ignored and let down by the Conservatives.

“Those in leadership roles like Children and Families Cabinet Member Tracey Taylor and Council Leader Ben Bradley need to be held accountable.

Cllr Tracey Taylor. Credit Nottinghamshire County Council

“At the Children’s Scrutiny meeting last December, we were given a report which clearly showed the Council was not delivering for SEND families.

“I asked for additional help and support for families, for more resources, but this hasn’t happened.

“Since then some children have missed months of school because the Council aren’t providing the support they need. It isn’t good enough.

“The Labour Group are calling on Councillor Taylor in her leadership position as Cabinet Member for Children and Families to back Labour’s call for the Government to do more to ensure the council can support all SEND families and if she is unwilling to do that, to reconsider her position.”

But Cllr Taylor said: “It’s important to recognise this report speaks to the current effectiveness of the partnership which is clearly not supporting families and young people with SEND as it should.

“My role now is to make sure Nottinghamshire County Council’s part in the partnership is better and we’re well under way with taking the actions we need to, starting with the setting up of the improvement board under the guidance of Dame Christine Lenehan.”

Councillor Francis Purdue-Horan added: “This Ofsted report is extremely damaging for the Conservatives who run County Hall.

“What the report says is that Nottinghamshire County Council are categorically letting down some of our most vulnerable children and young people.

“Their recent attitude towards decisions made by the independent Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman criticising the Council, shows that they have a track record in not accepting criticism.

“I hope now, in the light of this report, they take robust action and work with Ofsted to ensure that our children and young people receive the best support and help possible.”

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