‘Serious questions’ over why children's services weren't improved despite warnings

‘Serious questions’ need answering over why the council was unable to improve children’s services in Birmingham despite warnings from regulators, an opposition councillor has said.

Councillor Alex Yip at the SEND protest last week
Councillor Alex Yip at the SEND protest last week

Speaking a week after Councillor Sharon Thompson was appointed to the role of cabinet member for vulnerable children and families following Councillor Kate Booth’s resignation, Councillor Alex Yip said that the move by the council was ‘not good enough’.

Councillor Booth was forced to resign last month following a report from regulators which showed that 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, with government education chiefs now set to intervene in the city’s ongoing special needs crisis.

The council’s SEND home to school transport service was embroiled in a string of controversies last year, with reports of children being left uncollected and even taken to the wrong school by drivers.

And Councillor Yip has asked why issues in the service highlighted back in 2018 were not dealt with for the three years of Councillor Booth’s time in charge.

“For years families, schools and children have had things imposed at them without being listened to creating a huge mistrust and need to fight the council at every turn for what they know to be right for their children,” he said.

“The frustration by thousands of families is evident and the fear of what September’s new year will bring is real as felt by a demonstration by parents at the SEND crisis in Victoria Square.

Councillor Kate Booth was cabinet member for children's wellbeing at Birmingham City Council. Copyright Birmingham City Council

“Serious questions needs to be answered on why Ofsted’s 18-month Written Statement of Action (WSOA) agreed in 2018 – 30 months ago – was not followed and seemingly abandoned with none of the quarterly update reports on progress done.

“What was supposed to be the definitive plan for change – a final opportunity for ‘rapid improvement’ – was completely squandered, with next to no adequate improvements made, yet more families failed and futures of children damaged. This is simply not good enough, has not been for years, and a change in a title is just not going to do it.

“When will parents finally see things improve for their children?”

Councillor Thompson’s appointment last week was somewhat overshadowed by a parent-led SEND protest outside the council house on the same day, with Councillor Thompson announcing that she had already written to the Government inviting them to a meeting to discuss the challenges which lie ahead.

And, responding to Councillor Yip’s comments, she said: “On my first day as the cabinet member for vulnerable children and families I felt it was important to go and speak to the parents who had gathered in Victoria Square. I listened to their concerns and I made it clear that I would work closely with them as we seek to rapidly improve the SEND service in Birmingham.

“I am committed to delivering the best possible outcomes for all children, young people, carers and parents in our city, this will only be achieved by working together. I am determined that together we will speed up the pace of change and improvement within the SEND service.”

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