CHILDREN with special educational needs (SEND) have previously faced difficulties accessing specialist support on the Island, but improvements have now been made.

A joint inspection of Isle of Wight Council SEND services, carried out in November by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, found leaders were committed to tackling the 'historically poor support' children had received and ensuring their needs were identified early and appropriate support put in place.

In a largely positive report, inspectors said council officers knew what needed to be done to improve services and had provided training in schools to help staff understand how to support SEND children.

The support available to families of SEND children was commended, specifically the provision of short breaks and family activities through the Gateway Card scheme.

However, concerns remained in some areas — including ineffective communication between area leaders and parents or carers, which meant some parents did not feel they were being listened to.

Inspectors found children and their families did not always have a say about the support they receive.

Although fewer SEND children are being excluded from school, and the situation is continuing to improve, inspectors said the rate was still too high.

Peter Shreeve, assistant district secretary at the Isle of Wight branch of the National Education Union, said the number of SEND children with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans had increased by 65 per cent between 2015 and 2019 — the biggest increase in the country.

He said the Island had significantly more high-needs students but substantially less funding, and schools were forced to 'do more with less.'

Inspectors found the quality of EHC plans had improved, but targets were often too imprecise and older plans were not always kept up to date.

Cllr Paul Brading, cabinet member for children's services, said: “This is a hugely positive report that recognises the hard work and commitment of everyone working in local services for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

"The inspectors praised the range and improving quality of Island services and the way the council and our partners work together.

"After an SEN inspection, most authorities have to write a written statement of action detailing how they will improve services and are then re-inspected. In our case, inspectors were so impressed we don’t need to write a plan and they won’t be re-inspecting.

"Inspectors also identified some areas where they think we can improve, and I know we are already focusing on improvement in these areas.

"We try our hardest to involve parents but recognise there is still room for improvement and where we have not been good enough is in communicating developments to families.”

Alison Smith, managing director at the NHS Isle of Wight Clinical Commissioning Group, added: “We welcome the findings of this report and the positive news is a testament to the brilliant partnership working happening across different organisations on the Island.

“We’re working better together both at a leadership level and an operational level. We’re pleased with where we have got to, however this is not the end of the story for us, and we will continue to provide better services.

“We have made big improvements to our autism service and we are all focused on early identification as this is key to unlocking support for families.”

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