The report informs the Scrutiny Committee about the response of Northumberland County Council to the COVID pandemic (March 2020-March 2021) in relation to children and young people with Special Educational Needs and/or Disability (SEND).
It offers an overview of the response over three distinct phases, corresponding to the different periods of school partial closures.
A comprehensive introduction to the report which provided information for the Committee on how the Council responded to the Covid pandemic in relation to children and young people with Special Educational Needs and/or Disability (SEND), was provided by N Taylor, Head of Inclusive Education Services.
G Renner-Thompson, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services commended the report advising that all staff involved had worked extremely hard to ensure the best outcomes for all children and young people. This was reiterated by the Committee.
There had been an increase in demand for services, especially around autism support and emotional wellbeing and behaviour, these services had become free at the point of delivery last year to improve equity which stood the Council in good stead during the pandemic period and also in terms of moving forward, allowing needs led delivery of support rather than relying on the availability of individual school’s resources. Work continues in terms of reviewing the capacity of these support teams in particular. The number of statutory assessment requests continues to increase; this also leads to the need to keep capacity of the relevant teams under review, and to continue to work with schools to ensure consistent provision for children and young people with SEND. The Executive Director advised there was an increase in demand across all service areas within Children’s Services and this would need to be looked at in a strategic manner. The Council was continuing to develop the working relationship with the CCG and there would be a better ability to predict some need and it would be a challenge but the Council would continue to try to adapt the resources available to meet the needs. Some innovative approaches had been introduced to meet immediate and medium term needs working with schools as the quickest way to meet demand. A number of colleagues from schools were being seconded to the Service to strengthen the resource in the short term, thus recognising the expertise there was in schools. Medium term plans would also add capacity. Assurance was provided that the Service understood the needs going forward, and sought regular opportunities to understand the needs of schools in support of learners with SEN.
In response to a question regarding the learners who were not attending school, assurance was provided that monitoring was undertaken by the Education Welfare Team with comprehensive tracking and constant contact with the young people, families and schools taking place to build attendance back up with referrals to relevant services if required. Going forward the virtual offer around training in schools would remain, as attendance had been very good. A virtual support would remain for some students, on site visits to learners and schools had now been reinstated.
Concern was expressed regarding impacts the pandemic had on mental health as were outlined in the report however the Members recognised and commended the work being undertaken in respect of this. The current waiting time for primary mental health and CYPS was 4 weeks to treatment, which was radically reduced from 2 years ago, however referrals to school health took longer and work was being undertaken with the CCG to find solutions including working with the voluntary sector. Referrals to the Emotional Wellbeing and Behaviour Support Team had been kept open until the end of term with responses being provided in two to three weeks. Members were referred to the Covid parent/carer survey available online which provided some honest comments and feedback from families of children and young people with SEND about their experiences of the first national lockdown and its impact on them. The Executive Director commented there were a number of ways to access services at a lower level before being referred to CYPS with a number of services being available at the level of early intervention but advised that it was important to understand the pathway and whether there was an emotional or behavioural issue or it was a mental health issue.
The Chair echoed points made by a number of Members in relation to the huge gratitude to all staff within schools for the work they have carried out, during the pandemic. He advised that the Council would provide evidence to the Public Inquiry on Covid on the positive impact that local authorities could have.
RESOLVED that the contents of the report be noted and the support provided over this period be recognised.