Heartbreaking accounts from parents have shed light on the widespread failings in Oxfordshire’s provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Speaking about their experiences with SEND services, parents claimed their children had “fallen through the cracks” and been “left to rot” by the authorities.

Their accounts follow last week’s damning report by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission which found “widespread and systemic failings" in the SEND services provided by Oxfordshire’s local area partnership (LAP), which includes Oxfordshire County Council.

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The council unequivocally accepted the findings and apologised to families it had “let down.”

Witney Gazette:

Witney Gazette:

For Emma Adams, who struggled for more than a year to find an appropriate school for her autistic son George, the report’s conclusions were “not a surprise.”

“The failings have been blindingly obvious for us”, said the 33-year-old from Wantage.

When Mrs Adams pulled five-year-old George out of The Ark Preschool in Wantage last year, where he could not cope due to his special needs, she didn’t realise it would be a year until he returned to mainstream education.

But she was forced to drop everything and care for him at home when the council refused to send him to a special education school, instead recommending that he go to a mainstream school in its Education, Health, and Care (EHC) plan.

These EHC plans, which set out a child and young person's special educational needs, were noted as being flawed in last week’s report.

Inspectors said the reports frequently “do not describe the child or young person accurately enough to ensure that their needs are met effectively."

In Mrs Adams’ case, it meant that her son was not allocated to an appropriate school until this summer after she threatened to take the council to a tribunal.

George has now started at Fitzwaryn School in Wantage,

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But Mrs Adams fears that other children might not be receiving the education they need.

“It is unacceptable that children are being missed and are falling through the cracks,” she said.

“It’s only really happened because I’m stubborn. I could have given up months ago and he would be at a school where he couldn’t cope.

“It’s not fair on the children or parents that go through this.

“I worry for other children because I know how it’s felt. It has sometimes felt so desperate and like nothing is going to change.”

Around 2,000 parents and carers shared their views with inspectors for the report.

The inspection team said "a tangible sense of helplessness" ran through their descriptions, as parents and carers reported poor communication within and across the partnership.

It also criticised "frequent changes and interim arrangements in important roles" impacting the ability to make sustainable change and undermining confidence in the leadership.

The lack of provision was also identified as "a significant area of concern".

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Stephen Chandler, part of the council's senior leadership team, said: “I am so sorry we have let families down. We fully and unequivocally accept the findings of this report. We must and will do better together as a partnership.

“We are urgently focusing our efforts to address the concerns raised. To do this, we want to develop a joint action plan together with parents and carers of young people with SEND as well as with other support and advocacy organisations.”

But for some parents, it is too little, too late.

Kim, 43, who asked us not to use her surname, said: “It’s like your partner cheating on you and then apologising for it. They knew the damage they were doing while doing it.

“It’s an apology too late. What’s the point?”

Witney Gazette: Kim with her son Henry in 2019Kim with her son Henry in 2019 (Image: Contributed)

Her autistic son Henry, seven, has been out of formal education since April 2022.

He missed the summer term of Year 1, the entirety of Year 2, and now the autumn term of Year 3.

Kim said she was declined twice by the council for an Education, Health and Care needs assessment, which is needed for an EHC plan, with Henry not assessed until February 2023.

But like with Mrs Adams, she said the council’s EHC plan named a mainstream school, and she has chosen instead to keep her son at home to have online sessions with a tutor.

“Oxfordshire County Council just lets him rot,” she said.

Witney Gazette: Cllr Liz Brighouse

Kim is a representative of Oxfordshire Send Parent Action (OxSENDPA), a group of 90 parents who wrote to the council at the weekend calling for Cllr Liz Brighouse to resign as SEND portfolio lead following the inspection.

In the letter, the group said: "This must be a moment of fundamental reset."

Cllr Brighouse has so far resisted calls to resign.

She said: "I care very deeply about improving the lives of children and young people and I am absolutely determined to see through the significant changes that are needed to provide families with the high quality of services that they need and deserve.”