Devon’s support for special needs children to be brought back in-house

County Hall in Exeter, home of Devon County Council

County Hall in Exeter, home of Devon County Council - Credit: Daniel Clark

A radical plan to bring Devon’s school improvement services and support for special needs children back in-house has been agreed. 

Devon County Council’s cabinet unanimously backed the plans at their meeting on Wednesday (10/03/2021) which entails the authority taking responsibility for some 200 staff when its current contract with providers Babcock ends. The contract is worth £8.8 million a year. 

The meeting heard that one of the key aims of the move is to integrate all Devon’s support for children in the county with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and that bringing the service in-house will achieve a much more seamless offer across Devon. 

The decision in response to the national reforms that were introduced in 2014 that required much closer cooperation between education, health and social care providers. 

And it aims to address some of the issues that have led to the council’s children’s services being found inadequate by Ofsted. 

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Devon County Council deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services, councillor James McInnes, said: “Bringing all these services back under one roof will mean we can offer a much better package of integrated help and support for these vulnerable children and their families in a one-stop shop. 

“This doesn’t imply any criticism of the work that Babcock has done which is much valued and which has achieved good outcomes for children. 

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“Indeed, successive annual reports have demonstrated the significant positive impact the services have on children in Devon. 

“But these services were outsourced in 2012 and the national picture has changed dramatically since the national reforms of 2014. 

“When we came to review our services and the current contract, it became clear that it made sense to integrate all our help for children with special needs. 

“We looked at whether private companies would want to bid to provide our school improvement services in the future but in the end, it seemed more sensible to bring them all back in-house.” 

The SEND services include educational psychology, early years support and advice, children missing education, physical and sensory support, social, emotional and mental health, communication and interaction and multi-sensory impairment which is currently under a separate contract. 

The other services which are currently out-sourced are: teaching, curriculum and learning advisory support, governance, school improvement and quality assurance, education safeguarding, elective home education support and monitoring, English as an additional language and the education welfare service. 

Devon’s chief officer for children’s services, Melissa Caslake, added: “There is a strong, partnership-wide commitment to develop a truly transformative SEND service where education, health and care work as one team. 

“Parents have told us we need to meet the needs of children with SEND earlier and better and improve access to and coordination of support. 

“We are committed to improving and securing the best long-term futures for our children with additional needs and integrating these services will help us to achieve this.” 

Her report to Wednesday’s meeting added: “Moving forward we need to prioritise the integration of SEND services so that we can continue to improve our ability to meet the needs of children and their families.  The recommendations support a fully integrated SEND Service while also securing safe delivery of the remaining statutory duties and services which are important to the inclusive education of pupils in schools. 

“Parents have told us we need to meet the needs of children with SEND earlier and better and improve access to and coordination of support and this is the best option to successfully transform SEND for children and families.” 

Cllr Alan Connett, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, added: “I welcome the broad direction of travel and huge synergies that can be achieved by bringing the service in house, and doing the right thing for the children of Devon is the most important thing for all us of. After seven years of Ofsted finding the service inadequate, if this step does anything to help improve that, then it is very much to be welcomed.” 

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