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News plans to boost support for Devon’s special needs children

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

Devon County Council’s Cabinet will consider the plan next week. It 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.

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).

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

Devon County Council deputy leader and Cabinet member for children’s services, 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.

“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 education 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, said:

“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 have excellent inclusion opportunities for children with SEND in Devon with 57 per cent of statutory school age children with education, health and care plans accessing mainstream education. That is 14 per cent above the national average.

“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.”