Cabinet member resigns amid special needs crisis

Birmingham’s chief of children’s wellbeing has stepped down amid the city’s special needs crisis.

Councillor Kate Booth
Councillor Kate Booth

Councillor Kate Booth has resigned following a report from regulators last week showing the city has not improved in 12 out of 13 “areas of significant weakness” identified in 2018.

The Ofsted and Care Quality Commission report highlighted ongoing problems with the city’s provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

The Government could now step in if it is decided Birmingham City Council and Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group cannot sort out the situation.

Continuing problems identified include poor “lived experience” and poor academic outcomes while the number of absences and exclusions for children with special needs is “too high”.

Councillor Booth took on the role of cabinet member for children’s services in May 2018 – and has also now said she will not be standing for re-election in May 2022.

She said: “I took on the role of Birmingham’s cabinet member for children’s services in May 2018, inheriting the complex issues relating to rapidly increasing demand for services following decades of poor performance and lack of government funding for SEND services.

“Now, given the recent re-inspection findings, which I fully accept, and the timescale involved I have taken the decision to step aside to allow a new cabinet member with a fresh approach and perspective to build on the work I have started and the large scale task of creating a service that meets the needs of children, carers and families.”

“I had already shared with the leader and my local constituency MP Preet Gill that I would be retiring in 2022 and not standing for re-election to the city council in May.

“I will of course continue to serve the people of Quinton and the citizens of Birmingham to the best of my abilities and look forward to fresh challenges.

“I will be keen to watch and see the much-needed improvements for our children with SEND their carers and families.

“I have really enjoyed the challenges of this role and working with our Parent Carer Forum and our Special Schools my heart has always been on improving the services to our children with additional needs; they have a right to better services.”

Councillor Booth worked as a teacher before serving as a councillor, and said she knows “how vitally important it is to have the right services, support and opportunities in place, so that children can realise their potential and lead fulfilled inclusive lives”.

She said: “Before joining the council, I spent my entire professional life in Birmingham’s schools supporting every student and I have relished seeing countless young people thrive and succeed.

“It has been my privilege as cabinet member for Birmingham’s children’s services, to begin and lead on the transformation of SEND provision in Birmingham from frequently segregated approaches to a greater emphasis on inclusion in mainstream with optimum support for every child.”

Councillor Booth listed items she has overseen, including the formation of Birmingham Children’s Trust and “substantial improvements” to the home to school transport system in the last year.

She said: “[…] There continues to be a wider issue with SEND provision and the Government review must include substantial extra support for our children with additional needs and a fundamental refresh of the physical estate and resources for integrating all our children in the city’s schools and in our communities.

“I would urge Vicky Ford MP the Minister for Children and Families to argue for substantial new financial support for the nation’s beleaguered SEND services.”

Councillor Booth said there is an urgent need for the Government to complete its ongoing review of the SEND system and said “there is a broader national issue that must also be resolved”.

She added: “It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as the cabinet member for Birmingham’s children’s services and I am confident that we have laid the foundation for a more efficient and effective service that is able to best meet the needs of our children and young people, as well as their families.”

City council leader Councillor Ian Ward, said: “I want to thank Kate for her efforts as cabinet member for children’s wellbeing over the last three years.

“Kate has led this service through a difficult period, giving 100 per cent commitment to the children and young people of this city.

“As a teacher, Kate dedicated her entire career to improving the lives and life chances of young people and those efforts continued in her time as cabinet member.

“Now, our focus must be on urgently addressing the serious issues raised in the Ofsted re-inspection of SEND services and in speeding up the pace of change and improvement.

“We must listen and learn to ensure that the much-needed transformation of the service delivers the best possible outcomes for all children, young people, carers and parents and I’m personally committed to getting this right.”

Councillor Alex Yip, shadow cabinet member for children’s wellbeing, said the resignation was “long overdue” and that there had been “multiple scandals” across the service.

He brought up the ongoing troubles with the city council’s home to school transport service which has seen children dropped off at the wrong schools and an allegation a sex offender was allowed to transport pupils.

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