OLDHAM Council’s Special Educational Needs Department (SEND) has been comprehensively condemned by inspectors.

They say they found that:

That children with special education needs (SEN)) or disabilities do not make strong academic progress.

Outcomes for pupils are often “meaningless”.

It is “one of the worst-achieving areas nationally for educational achievement” among children with SEN or disabilities.

The education, health and care process does not comply with the code of practice, meaning possible illegal practice.

The joint inspection was carried out by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission to judge the effectiveness of the area in implementing the disability and special educational needs (SEN) reforms as set out in the Children and Families Act 2014.

It found “significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice” and described the implementation of the reforms as “slow and fragmented”.

Less than a quarter of education, health and care (EHC) plans were completed within statutory timelines.

The letter to Oldham Council by Jonathan Jones, Her Majesty’s Inspector, said: “The education, health and care (EHC) process in Oldham is fundamentally flawed, does not comply with the Code of Practice and there is possible illegal practice.

“The quality of EHC plans is unacceptable.

“Outcomes for pupils are often meaningless and the level of input made by professionals can be shoddy and inaccurate.

“The children and young people who have SEN and/or disabilities in Oldham do not make strong academic progress.

“Oldham is one of the worst-achieving areas nationally for educational achievement for this group of children.

“This prevalent poor achievement is exacerbated by high levels of fixed-term exclusions and persistent absences from school for children and young people who have SEN and/or disabilities, especially at the secondary phase.”

The letter added that the transport policy and related arrangements also contain serious, non-safeguarding-related flaws.

This was an issue that was being reviewed.

Leaders were also criticised for failing to routinely evaluate the difference their actions make to young people.

It added: “There are inconsistencies in how officers carry out their work and their understanding of what they are statutorily required to do.

“Leaders do not demonstrate the capacity to implement future plans.

“For example, they were unable to provide secure and reliable evidence of the difference their actions have made to children and young people and their families to date.”

Parents who inspectors spoke to also raised issues.

They said children were waiting “too long for their needs to be identified”.

Less than half of those who shared their views “believed their children’s needs are being met”.

There were some positives points highlighted in the letter - inspectors described the quality of many front-line services as “good”.

Projects were being carried out to make a difference to children and young people with SEN and/or disabilities, especially in the area of health.

The inspection also praised Parents of Oldham In Touch (POINT) as being “highly regarded by the families” and act as a point of reference and knowledge base for information in relation to SEN and/or disabilities within the Oldham area. “POINT empowers parents and carers to understand the processes and to access the services available,” it said.

Inspectors also praised the positive commissioning of services to support families from ethnic minorities and described the children and young people they met with as “inspiring”.

“They are champions in breaking down the barriers and misconceptions of what it means to be a young person who has additional needs and/or disabilities,” Mr Jones said.

“They spoke to inspectors with stunning conviction and humbling humility about the work they do to improve the lives of their peers.”

Oldham Council has said it accepts the criticisms in the report and that work is already underway to improve the department.

This includes delivering new opportunities to engage and work alongside children, young people and parent/carers and reviewing the website to ensure accurate and up-to-date information.

Councillor Amanda Chadderton, cabinet member for education and early years, said: “We fully accept the criticisms in this report.

“The failings it identifies are unacceptable and we are sorry for anybody who has been let down by delays and weaknesses in how health, education and social care services have been working together in this area.

“I want to assure parents that we are working hard alongside NHS Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group to address these issues.

“Since the inspection, we have put measures in place - including further resource for additional officers - to drive this important work forward as a top priority.

“We need to get services working closer and smarter together than ever before - and we also truly need to put families’ views and experiences at the heart of everything that we do for and with them.

“Improving the life chances and outcomes for children and young people with SEND living in Oldham is absolutely vital.

“We recognise that there is much work to be done, but we are determined to continue taking action and address these challenges as quickly as possible.”

Ofsted have now asked the local area to produce and submit a Written Statement of Action which explains how the local area addresses concerns of significant weakness, including any illegal practice that may be happening in the area, the lack of effective leadership and joint partnership in SEND reforms and the dysfunctional EHC process.

It will also have to detail transport arrangements and the significant underachievement of children and young people who have SEN and/or disabilities, including the high rates of fixed-term exclusions and persistent absenteeism.