A WATCHDOG report has highlighted a "significant weakness" in Darlington's work helping children with special needs and disabilities.

Inspectors found the area's education, care and health services were ineffective in meeting the needs of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), affecting their "outcomes". 

They also found "poor preparation for adulthood and post-19 opportunities for children and young people with SEND".

Now leaders must send a written statement of action to Ofsted explaining how it will tackle these "areas of significant weakness".

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A team of inspectors from education watchdog Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the health and social care regulator, carried out a joint inspection in January.

They found:

  • "Many parents and carers feel that their child has not been supported well enough to prepare them for adulthood... a significant area of weakness in Darlington";
  • Children and young people with SEND had "underdeveloped" opportunities to have a say in services and support offered to them;
  • Young people with SEND had "limited" opportunities for apprenticeships, traineeships, internships and employment services, with "no coordinated or planned approach" to improve this;
  • "Too many children and young people with SEND have missed school" and "leaders do not understand why many children and young people are suspended, or are persistently absent, from school".

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Inspector Lee Elliott wrote to Darlington Town Hall and the Tees Valley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) with their findings. 

He states: "The inspection raises significant concerns about the effectiveness of the area.

"Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector has determined that a Written Statement of Action is required because of significant areas of weakness in the area’s practice.

"While there are some signs of improvement recently, over time, the area has not worked effectively across education, health and care services to ensure children and young people with SEND achieve consistently positive outcomes.

"Academic outcomes for children and young people with SEND show some signs of improvement.

"However, over time, children and young people with SEND have not achieved well or attained highly, particularly at the end of key stage 4."

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Inspectors judged how well the Darlington area carried out SEND reforms in the Children and Families Act 2014, taking the pandemic into account.

They spoke with children and young people with SEND, parents, carers, council and NHS officers, leaders and governors.

They say education, health, and care plans do not consistently identify the changing needs and aspirations of children and young people, consider their physical, mental and social development or align projects to their aspirations enough.

Inspectors found there were examples of success and leaders' forethought and creativity.

But they say: "There have been limited examples such as this that demonstrate a coordinated approach that consistently promotes the well-being of children and young people with SEND, or improves the quality of special educational needs provision."

They say time was lost or projects stalled because of staff turnover or problems appointing to leadership positions.

The parent and carer forum (PCF) is described as a "vital source of information and inspiration" for Darlington's parents and carers, with the education psychology service giving strong support with dyslexia, emotional literacy and the curriculum.

Transitions to nursery and secondary schools are said to be improving, with area leaders working successfully with staff and coordinators to help improve children and young people’s confidence, self-esteem, communication and language skills.


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