• SEND speak

All about AfC; the good news & the bad

Dear All

Last week I wrote “I believe that most people who chose to work in the area of SEND are there because they want to make a difference; any critique offered is intended to question and develop understanding, not to damn.”

So, we’ll start with the bad news, and end with the good…

1. Corporate Arrogance and the SEND Reforms

2. The LGA Report at the CYPwDLD - Richmond

3. Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman’s report - Richmond

4. Kingston Children's Services rated Outstanding by Ofsted

5. Short Breaks for February Half Term

1 Corporate Arrogance and the SEND Reforms A bit of a rant? Or a challenge?

Well I stand by what I wrote last week – remembering that we are all people after all.

However, reading the LGA report (item 2) and the Ombudsmen Report (item 3) what remains is the sense that I’ve always had; that there is a kind of corporate arrogance within Achieving for Children (AfC) that inhibits their collective ability to improve the obvious.

This leads the organisation (AfC) to not quite believe that they can fail. After all, as is often said, Achieving for Children aren’t going anywhere… and they’ve just been given Outstanding for their Kingston services; something they are sensibly proud of. But shouting about the successes and making excuses for the widely known struggles isn’t wise.

The SEND Ofsted report for Kingston was awful ( ) and because AfC also provide children’s services in Richmond, why would anyone be surprised by that the LGA or Ombudsmen reports for Richmond would be anything other than poor or damning?

Whilst it is painful for the people employed by AfC to receive yet another slating for their SEND services, it’s far more painful for the families that live through it. And when AfC then appear to want to make their staff feel better (‘it’s been so hard for them’), rather than their customers…

Another example of corporate arrogance is the phrase oft used by AfC “some parents” or “some children”, rather than acknowledging that a problem could be symptomatic of a local systemic failure. To say ‘some’ is genuinely belittling to the many and is possibly why the Ombudsmen have “asked the council to undertake a full audit of its education provision and report back”.

We all know that nationally the SEND Reforms were ill thought through and ill funded – the SEND Inquiry proved this ( – but enough!

But we’re two years past the implementation period and it’s time for AfC to pull its corporate socks up and make good locally what we all know is not working – and what the Inspectors or Ombudsmen will continue to remind them of.

There is no doubt that there is a lot of work to do and there are attitudes that need to change collectively within AfC; some corporate humility and respect, taking visible responsibility and accountability for services before Inspectors or Ombudsmen force it.

Who really understands services?

Parents and Carers, Children and Young People are at the front line of services – we receive all the services (or not) - and I repeat, all the services. We do not receive one service in isolation of another. But that is the way that services are still commissioned* – and so we (parents/carers) all too easily see where the chinks are. When we complain that something isn’t working, it’s usually because we’ve reached the end of our tether.

As parent/carers we have enough to do without adding to our considerable responsibilities by writing complaints. The same goes for the voluntary organisations that support parents; if they’re giving a message of bad news, then children’s services, please listen and do not say ‘oh we don’t get enough funding, it’s a national problem’ or worse, ‘oh it’s those parents with their high expectations again’ (yes, I have heard similar in the past).

The Challenge?

We’re all people; parents and carers know too well that the system isn’t perfect – the officers and commissioners know the same. It’s time for AfC’s children’s services to publicly and collectively cease their corporate arrogance, to lose the fine words and to actively start to fix it – before the next round of inspectors come and make everyone feel bad again…

* Joint commissioning was / is also a key principle of the SEND Reforms. And it ain’t happening yet! As I think I’ve written before, I know of only one local authority that re-structured themselves before 2014 to suit the duties and services anticipated by the SEND Reforms.

2 The LGA Report at the CYPwDLD - Richmond

LGA = Local Government Association CYPwDLD = Children & Young People wth Disabilities and/or Learning Difficulties partnership forum

The next CYPwDLD is to be held this coming Tuesday 21st January 2020, you can find the details in the link below. The forum is composed of a membership from the voluntary sectors, including parent/carer representation. As such, I believe that like many similar council forums, observers are welcome, but membership manged is by representatives.

This report is to be discussed during the next CYPwDLD, as is the Ombudsmen’s report (see item 3).

“During the summer of 2019 the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames

commissioned the Local Government Association (LGA) to conduct an independent

review of provision for children and young people (CYP) with special educational needs

and disabilities (SEND) in the Borough. The purpose was to challenge the local area’s

own self-assessment and strategy for improvement and suggest where additional

development would be beneficial.”

The LGA “SEND Peer Challenge Feedback Review” report is 16 pages long and begins on page 11 of the Agenda Reports pack on the link below:

It’s marked that the first two bullet points of strengths are:

· the determination of parents to improve the system that supports not just their own children, but all children and young people in the Borough

· the passion and commitment of those working across the SEND community in Richmond, and the positive current momentum of improvement

And the first two bullet points of areas for improvement are:

· the development of the Parent Panel and the Parent Carer Forum, to better engage parents and recognise their concerns

· acknowledging and addressing parents’ concerns, including; the Local Offer, continuity of case workers, empathy from those providing support

This, to me, underlines the need to keep working with families. Families, like Achieving for Children, are not going away.

3 Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman’s report - Richmond

Many of you may have seen this already, if not directly from AfC then via social media. Also, Ian Dodds at AfC wrote to the local voluntary parent/carer support organisations to alert them of the report.

The Report

“The three cases highlighted in my report give rise to serious concerns that there may be systemic failures within the processes operated by the London Borough of Richmond and Achieving for Children. I have published this report in part because other families may very well be affected by issues similar to those I have raised.

“I have now asked the council to undertake a full audit of its education provision and report back to me about what it finds. If the council finds other children have been affected, it should take steps to ensure they do not miss out on the services they are entitled to receive by law.”

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

The full report is here:

AfC’s response

“The LGSCO report is accepted in full and clearly shows that there were significant failings for some children and young people between 2016 and 2017. This does not reflect what I want to see in place for every child and young person. It does show that Richmond Council and Achieving for Children were slow to recognise the increased demands of the 2014 Act and our sincerest apologies have been extended to the families of the children and young people the Ombudsman has reported on.”

Ian Dodds, Director of Children’s Services for Richmond & Kingston Councils

AfC’s full response is here:

And more

From the BBC news:

There is mention of changes to leadership within AfC’s response. The AfC senior leadership chart, taken from their website today (18th January), is below:

4 Kingston Children's Services rated Outstanding by Ofsted

It would be unfair not to also include the Good News. And this IS Good News…

“This was a social care inspection and inspectors reviewed casework relating to our early help and safeguarding services and the support we provide to children and young people in care and leaving care. Inspectors spoke to children, young people, parents, foster carers and adoptive parents in some of the cases that they reviewed.

Inspectors commented on the significant improvements that we have made since the last inspection in 2015 when they received a ‘good’ rating.

The four-day inspection took place between 21 and 25 October, when inspectors visited various services including Early Help, Referral and Assessment, Child Protection, Children Looked After and Youth Resilience.”

5 Short Breaks for February Half Term

“Booking is now open for Energise Short Breaks during half term in Kingston and Richmond

The sessions based in Kingston will be available to children who live in either the Royal Borough of Kingston or the London Borough of Richmond.”

Kingston (via Achieving for Children)

Richmond (via Richmond Mencap)

“These are free of charge and open to children aged between 5 and 8 years old (Energise) and 9 to 15 years old (Energise plus) with mild to moderate learning disabilities.

In Richmond the programme is for young people aged 8-17 years old with mild to moderate Learning Disabilities, Social Communication Conditions, ADHD and other additional needs.

This service is funded for young people living in the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames and the trips are free for everybody.

Full details of the Short Break offer in Kingston and Richmond can be viewed here.”

If you have any questions at all, please ask and I'll do my best to find an answer.

With best wishes, Romany




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