Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Postcode lottery for parents looking for information on local authorities’ children’s services provision

The vast majority of local authorities fail to provide sufficient detail on available provision for children and young people with special needs or a disability, an audit has found.

The Children’s Services Development Group (CSDG), an alliance of independent care and specialist education services providers for children and young people with complex needs, conducted a full audit of all Local Offers in England. Local Offers aim to provide up-to-date, useful advice to parents and carers on provision for young people and children with special needs and disabilities. However, while 99.3% of authorities satisfy their legal obligation to provide a Local Offer, these vary in quality, with a postcode lottery emerging.

For instance, 44.7% of local authorities do not list independent schools on their Local Offer webpage and 9.2% do not provide any information on independent schools at all.

Other key findings from the report include:

Of those that include information on independent schools, 56.6% of authorities do not provide information on the specialisms of these schools

Despite a legal obligation to do so, 43.4% do not list schools outside their boundaries as an integrated part of their Local Offer

 Only 3.3% of local authorities provide information for a named contact person for those requiring help with the Local Offer

Local Offers are difficult to navigate. The shortest routes are often unintuitive, such as through an authorities’ A-Z directory of services, rather than through the special needs and disability pages. On average it takes 5.4 mouse clicks to navigate to an authority’s list of maintained schools and 6 clicks to navigate to the list of independent schools.

Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, the Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP, said: “This welcome research has uncovered a very mixed picture for the local offer across the country. This is a cause for concern if the ultimate aim is to support children, wherever they live. The report makes a number of achievable recommendations that I hope the government will carefully consider as a way to improve local offers and outcomes for young people across the country.”

CSDG spokesperson Brian Jones (chief executive of the SENAD Group), said: “Local Offer implementation across local authorities is inconsistent, resulting in the emergence of a postcode lottery. The Department for Education’s Section 41 list of independent schools, which many Local Offer pages simply redirect to, is not fit for purpose. A mandated local offer template produced by the Department is the best way to achieve consistency and ensure it is easy to use, providing clear, accessible information about local provision.”

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