Gareth Copeland: 5 minute read

Transforming SEND services across Westminster City Council

Technology is a key enabler of change but without an equivalent transformation, when it comes to service redevelopment, you can fall flat. This is something that Westminster City Council can proudly say, has not happened. A recent Ofsted report has provided glowing reviews of a service that has been carefully crafted to put children and young people first.

A glowing report

Amidst all of the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, an Ofsted inspection report for the SEND service at Westminster City Council was published. Arriving this week, it is a glowing reflection of a service that has created true service transformation through the use of digital technology in order to push forward and place children and young people first.

One of the key indicators when it comes to measuring SEND success is Education, Health and Care Plans, of which the report had this to say;

‘Leaders have improved the quality of education, health and care (EHC) plans. They have improved the process for the completion of EHC plans. As a result, the proportion of plans that are completed within 20 weeks is high.’
Ofsted report summary. May 2020

The proportion of plans completed within the 20-week period is high due to the work that the council has put into strengthening connections across education, health and care. These plans are created purposefully and with the children or young person placed at the centre of everything.

‘Leaders’ work to secure improvement is suitably focused and it is making a difference. Leaders know their local area well. Their self-evaluation is accurate, and they have devised appropriate plans to address the identified weaknesses. Leaders have built capacity effectively within the local area to tackle these weaknesses.’

‘Leaders’ approach to identifying SEND is effective. Agencies work well together to ensure that emerging needs are identified and assessed quickly, and suitable provision is put in place. Leaders commission services jointly for the benefit of individuals and groups of children and young people.’
Ofsted report summary. May 2020

The report talks about how families are included in the production of EHCPs to ensure that they are as personal as possible;

‘Families are becoming increasingly influential in the design and implementation of services across the local area. Parents appreciate the support of ‘Make it happen’, the Westminster parent and carer forum. It provides a focal point for them to work with professionals to co-produce services in the local area (a way of working where children and young people, families and those that provide the services work together to create a decision or a service that works for them all).’
Ofsted report summary. May 2020

Through all of this, the desire to have children and young people’s wishes captured has been the over-riding desire and the report reflects this.

We are proud to have worked with the service at Westminster and hope that their story will emphasise the importance of technology to others. Through the use of technology, you can connect agencies together in a way that was not previously possible, which places the children and young person at the heart of operations.

‘Children’s and young people’s wishes and aspirations are captured well in EHC plans. Educational providers are closely involved in the local area’s response to meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND. Leaders have established effective systems to build the skills and expertise of school staff, including special educational needs coordinators (SENCos). This ensures that schools identify pupils’ needs quickly.’
Ofsted report summary. May 2020

The success of the bi-borough has also been shared by other local authorities who have noted the positive approach and report.

A journey of transformation

The team at Westminster did not get here alone. Alongside The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, they can trace the start of the transformation journey to the end of 2018. At this time they saw the bigger picture and came together with the desire to create the number one SEND service in the country.

One SEND is a transformation journey that brought together teams from across the two boroughs to create change. They aligned purposes to put children and young people first and not let costly delays affect the futures of those in need of assistance. It is a journey born of the desire to make a change and enhance the futures of those less fortunate, to work together whilst utilising technology to expedite turnaround times.

Looking at the national context

At the time, the sector was experiencing several challenges, the first and foremost of which was increased financial pressures owing to budget reductions and increased numbers requiring an EHCP. Combining all of this with the desire for earlier identification and interventions for children and young people with SEND and the challenge was set. Models of delivery were required to be re-thought in order to place those at the centre of the system first.

Taking the national view and applying it locally, the bi-borough acknowledged the desire to create more efficient processes to proactively manage performance, plan for the future and deliver the best outcomes. A digital strategy was at the heart of the business case, with the team looking to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Automate manual activities to create more time to engage with children and young people and their families;
  • transform data into service intelligence to enhance the understanding of the needs of children and young people and better support their needs; and
  • improve the interface of the SEND service with other local authority and NHS services.

Six months later

Initial achievements following launch:

  • The project was completed one month ahead of schedule
  • Since the implementation of the technical core, ECLIPSE100% of EHC plans were completed on time.

Initial predictions revolved around being able to save more than 10,000 hours over the course of a year and two local authorities. Efficiency savings, as we know are essential to all local authorities, now more than ever, as staff are currently re-deployed to the frontlines.

The arrival of the global pandemic has pushed all local authorities to focus on frontline care and this has involved re-prioritisation. This is not to mean that statutory duties have slipped but they have been reworded, with the two most important considerations when it comes to SEND revolving around:

  • The Secretary of State for Education triggering the Coronavirus Act 2020 Modification of section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014 (England) Notice 2020
    • What this means in practice is that rather than local authorities being required to make ‘best endeavours’ to make provision, they are now required to make ‘reasonable endeavours’
    • On top of this, timeframes for responding to EHCP Plans have been relaxed to ‘as soon as reasonably practical’.

These changes are temporary and necessary in regard to the global pandemic but with the use of technology, the delays to those requests for an EHCP can be reduced drastically. It will be interesting to see the overall view of SEND that will be published in July. This will provide more of an insight into the issues facing vulnerable families in 2020, and whether Covid-19 has heightened these.

To conclude

Health and social care services are under immense strain at the best of times and within the current crisis, this has been accentuated. Staff have been moved to the frontlines in order to ensure that enough support is available for the most vulnerable members of society. This will have a knock-on effect for support services such as education and in particular SEND, and the production of EHCPs.

The national average for completing these within the mandated 20-week time period is 60.4%. This is a target that through the use of digital technology, service transformation and working across boroughs, Westminster City Council has been able to beat. Their rate of completion is above the average and this has been noted within the recent Ofsted inspection report.

A glowing report has been issued and whilst the overall view of SEND is not yet available, it showcases the hard work and dedication of a team determined to get the best results for children and young people. We are proud to have worked with them and to see that all the work put into the service has paid off.