HEALTH and council leaders say they will work to improve and shape services for children with special needs and disabilities after watchdogs raised "significant concerns".

Ofsted and Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors found "significant areas of weakness" and "poor preparation for adulthood" for children and young people with special and educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

They said there were some signs of improvement, but "the area has not worked effectively across education, health and care services to ensure children and young people with SEND achieve consistently positive outcomes".

They called on leaders to send a written statement of action to Ofsted explaining how they will tackle the weaknesses.

The joint inspection, carried out over five days in January, looked at how providers across Darlington including council, NHS and schools, implemented SEND reforms since 2014.

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Councillor Jon Clarke, Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, welcomed and thanked inspectors for the "constructive and measured" findings, saying it was a national as well as local issue.

He said: "In line with the report, we will undertake to work with partners in the clinical commissioning group to compile, and submit to Ofsted, a written statement of action addressing the areas for improvement.

“SEND provision is such an important and emotive area, and there is a real commitment in Darlington to ensure our offer is as good as it can be.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Cllr Jon Clarke. Picture: Darlington Borough Council.Cllr Jon Clarke. Picture: Darlington Borough Council.

"We will only achieve great things by working together in partnership, and I look forward to deepening and strengthening those links with our partners to drive forward the necessary improvements."

He added it was a national issue as many of the issues highlighed by inspectors were in a recent Government green paper.

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David Gallagher, chief officer for the Tees Valley Clinical Commissioning Group said: “It is positive to see that the progress made by partners is recognised by CQC and Ofsted in their findings.

“Despite working within challenging circumstances during the pandemic, we have collectively continued to improve and develop our services for children and young people with SEND, and will continue to work with our partners to strengthen support to children and young people as they prepare for adulthood.

“We will also build on our strong partnership with the Parent Carer Forum (PCF), working together with local families to continue to shape the vision of SEND provision in Darlington.”

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The Darlington PCF was praised by the inspectors as a "vital source of information and inspiration".

Its director Carla Scaife said she was "thrilled that the hard work and tenacity of the PCF is recognised" and they would continue working to "bring real and meaningful change".

She said: “The findings of the report will likely not come as a surprise to families or professionals in Darlington and as a forum we are committed to addressing the identified weaknesses, such as post-16 opportunities and raising outcomes for children and young people with SEND."

She said the strengths mentioned by inspectors were the result of work with families: "We would encourage families to get involved with the work that we do.

"We hope the findings of the report will be used to implement change and to encourage strategic partners to continue to listen to children, young people and their families.

"We will now work with local area colleagues in preparing a written statement of action for Darlington.”


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