THE findings of health and education watchdogs offer a mixed critique of Darlington's services for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found strengths as well as "significant weakness".

One "area for improvement" contained the criticism: "Many parents and carers are frustrated.

"They describe a running battle to have their voices heard and to persuade professionals across different agencies that their child needs support with their learning, health or care needs.

"Furthermore, parents and carers must tell their story many times, to many people."

Read more: Ofsted highlights 'weakness' in SEND services in Darlington schools

In a letter outlining their findings, inspectors said leaders had improved support to teachers and other professionals, with officers building close working relationships with families in the early years ensuring children got "the right support from the right people at the right time".

They also praised the work of health services with other organisations, leaders' "joined-up approach" on information about children's needs and professionals working more closely together.

"However, the aspirations of children and young people are not considered in full," the inspectors' letter stated.

"Leaders and professionals do not sufficiently reflect on, improve or amend SEND provision as a child or young person matures or develops over time."

Read more: Darlington Council responds to criticisms in special needs report

More young people had social, emotional and mental health needs in the wake of the pandemic, said the report.

It added: "There is more to do to ensure leaders understand and respond to children and young people’s needs well enough."

Leaders met to discuss young people suspended or at risk of suspension from school, making sure they did not miss long periods.

But the report said: "Young people with SEND miss school too much due to a mixture of absence and suspension from school.

"This, in part, means that too many children and young people with SEND are not prepared for their next steps in employment, education or training.

"There are limited opportunities and support for young people with SEND in Darlington to help them explore different employment opportunities, live independently, be healthy in adulthood or play an active role in society and their community.

"Opportunities to encourage more children and young people with experience of the care system to socialise, meet new friends and improve their confidence around others are limited."

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A questionnaire found three out of four parents and carers did not feel their child was supported to prepare for adulthood well.

The inspectors said some young people got effective careers advice, but many did not receive focused guidance.

"Some do not know about opportunities beyond school and college," said the report.

"Children and young people with SEND said they want more support to understand the world of work, further education opportunities and training, including apprenticeships, clearly.

"Leaders told inspectors that they know more work is needed to ensure young people with SEND move into appropriate employment.

"Young people told inspectors that this is a particular frustration for them.

"They want more information, opportunities and support to do well after school and college."

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The report said many children and young people were "inspired" and achieved well at schools with additional provision, and it pointed to carefully planned projects, personalised approaches and access to counselling, nurses and educational psychologists.

But it said leaders did not use information to plan, provide and review services well enough.

The inspectors' letter said: "Over time, children and young people with SEND have not had their needs met well consistently.

"Published information highlights that children and young people with SEND are achieving more strongly at school than in the past.

"However, for too long, children and young people with SEND have not achieved well."

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It was also difficult for paediatric services to move young people into adult services, and parents and carers describing it as a "cliff edge".

Leaders were said to be reducing long waiting times for some health services, and there were improvements with education, health and care plans, but the plans were not detailed enough and there was "more to do" to reflect children's needs accurately.

Parents and carers were unclear about local plans and some school leaders did not believe additional resources were "utilised effectively or promoted well enough".

Other strengths included a group supporting young people into adulthood, guidance and training to social workers, funding used for sports equipment and short breaks, mediation with parents and carers, face-to-face support during the pandemic and online support with speech and language therapies.


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