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.”