Government intervenes in special needs crisis at Birmingham City Council

Government education chiefs will intervene in the city’s ongoing special needs crisis following a damning report from regulators last week.

Birmingham Council House
Birmingham Council House

Birmingham City Council’s education and children’s social care overview and scrutiny committee today heard Vicky Ford MP, the minister for children and families will use the highest level of intervention available.

This means a commissioner will be appointed to oversee changes after Birmingham’s provision for special educational needs and disabilities was found to still have “significant weaknesses”.

The update from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission last week comes after a report in 2018 which identified 13 problem areas for the city council and Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group – 12 of which are yet to see significant improvement.

The city offers services to 35,000 youngsters and continuing problems include poor “lived experience” and poor academic outcomes while the number of absences and exclusions is too high.

Cabinet member for children’s wellbeing Councillor Kate Booth – who has been in post since May 2018 – announced her resignation in light of the crisis.

Speaking at the scrutiny committee today, Kevin Crompton, interim director of children’s services, said: “[The Secretary of State] has decided they will be using the highest level of intervention they have which is the direction which means they will appoint the commissioner and that commissioner will have the job of recommending to Government […] as to what happens next around SEND services in this city council.”

He said there is a “basic capacity issue” with case workers having many more cases to handle in a year than guidance suggests is best.

He said discussions were taking place with the council leadership about “increasing that capacity as soon as we can”.

On what needs to happen next he said: “It’s broadly a base review of the service including its financial background.

“There must be a new improvement plan obviously and a new improvement programme. That programme, learning from the past, has to have tighter governance and it has to be the single improvement plan.

“We need to make sure we have got a system that tries to get beyond ‘is it inclusion, is it not inclusion?’ and gets to a system that has sustainable and effective balance between children’s needs being met […].”

He said that plan would take three to five years to bring about improvements and “it is going to be a long haul”.

He added: “This is probably the last opportunity the council has been given to get this right.”

At the meeting, shadow cabinet member for children’s wellbeing Councillor Alex Yip said a Written Statement of Action (WSOA) governing what needed to happen and agreed with Ofsted had not been followed.

A city council spokesperson has previously said this is “not quite the case” and added: “The WSOA plan was not discarded and was monitored by the SEND Improvement Board.

“An additional and separate programme for improving SEND services was put in place which was not monitored by the SEND Improvement Board.

“There was insufficient overlap between the plans and the monitoring of the second plan.”

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