SEND Improvement Programme: Autumn 2020 update

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News Update - November 2020

Dan Barton

Hello everyone,

I hope that this newsletter finds you and your family safe and well in these most difficult of times. I'm pleased to be able to tell you that the SEND Improvement Programme is forging ahead despite the challenges presented by covid and that good progress is being made. 

We have maintained momentum with the programme by changing how we work, in particular doing more virtually. In doing so we have actually seen real benefits - for example, using online meetings and different ways of engaging with people, such as through films, themed conversations and embracing new technologies to ensure that Working Groups, Parent Representatives and Senior Teams have all stayed in touch. This is exciting and there are certainly things we will continue, even when (hopefully) things get back to normal. 

Below you will find updates on the what the six Working Groups have been doing over the last few months. I hope you find the updates informative. As always please get in touch if you would like to join the parent Reference Group, get involved in development of the new Parent Carer Forum or would like more information on any aspect of the SEND Improvement Programme.

Dan Barton,

Assistant Director for Education and Skills at Cumbria County Council & Lead Officer for the Cumbria SEND Improvement Programme

reference group

Working Group updates

Following the inspection last year we submitted a Written Statement of Action (WSoA) to Ofsted, which details all the areas where the SEND Improvement Programme is working to make improvements. This work is being lead by six Working Groups.

Below is an update from each of the Working Groups, along with a reminder of which area of the WSoA each Working Group is committed to improving.  

You can view the WSoA here.

Working Group 1 - Understanding of Local need

  • Develop a deep understanding of the needs of the SEND population in the local area
  • Develop a clear understanding among leaders across the partnership of the strengths and weaknesses in their respective areas of responsibility.
mental health

Emotional health and wellbeing (EHWB) and autism 'deep dive' report published

The Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) pulls together all the information about SEND across the county into one place and is being added to all the time as more information becomes available. The JSNA highlighted gaps in understanding on some key topics. To fill these gaps a 'deep dive' will be carried out on key areas, which will pull together all the information currently available and commission further work to find out more. 

Emotional health and wellbeing (EHWB) and autism 'deep dive' 

The first ‘deep dive’ has focused on improving what is known about the emotional health and wellbeing of children and young people with SEND, with a particular focus on those with Autism.

Focusing on improving understanding of the lived experience of families, you can read the full document here and the Easy Read version here.

Cropped video

The deep dive was discussed in two recorded conversations between senior system leaders and parents, one in the south and one in the north of the county. The events were well received by all involved. Parents and leaders alike said that the sessions were enjoyable, positive and worthwhile, and were in agreement in calling for action to translate the good ideas discussed into action. The leaders will now make a plan to outline the actions being taken forwards, who will do what and, where there are gaps, what needs to be done as next steps. The groups will meet again in around six months, as senior leaders asked the parents to hold them to account to ensure that progress is made.

You can watch the recorded conversation in the north here and in the south here.

Violent and challenging behaviour (VCB) report

Linked to the 'deep dive' work, a parent representative on Working Group 2 spoke to a number of SEND families and produced a report on the impact of Violent and Challenging Behaviour and the lack of help available for this specific area of need.

The VCB report has also been presented by the Parent Rep to several senior boards, including the Learning Disability Board and the SEND Improvement Board. Senior Leaders have committed to producing a response to the findings, and you can read the report on Violent and Challenging Behaviour here.

line graph

Performance management and quality assurance framework (PMQAF) updated

The PMQAF creates a shared understanding of ‘what good looks like’ and a consistent way of monitoring key performance measures across the county.

Importantly it has been developed using feedback from children, families and staff working in SEND.

The PMQAF enables better understanding of the impacts of the programme's work and is helping to demonstrate progress towards improvements on the ground. You can read more about the PMQAF and view the document here.

Working Group 2 - Commissioning and Access to Provision

  • Improve joint working, including the planning and commissioning of services to meet the needs of those with SEND, between education, health and care 
  • Address inequalities that exist in access to, and performance of, services between different geographical areas within Cumbria.

EHCP audit work drives improved joint working between health, social care and education

A new system for auditing Education, Health and Care Plans for children with SEND is being rolled out across the county. The audit involves a team of professionals  reviewing a number of anonymised EHCPs each month to establish areas of good practice and areas of weakness, which are then collated and shared with wider professionals to help improve the quality of new EHCP documents and those that are being updated. This is driving more collaborative approaches across the SEND system and by working together gaps and areas for development are identified, as well as ensuring there are no areas of duplication between health, social care and education.

New system of reporting for service providers ensures improvements and problems are dealt with quickly

External organisations who provide services for children and young people with SEND and their families, such as respite care, daytime activities and family support have been set rigorous new targets (Key Performance Indicators) and are being asked to feed these back to the Local Authority more frequently. This will provide 'real time' intelligence about what is happening in services and indentify where there are issues that need to be considered and addressed, without needing to wait for formal reviews or inspections. 

Reviews for Speech and Language Therapy and Occupational Therapy service specifications underway

Service specifications are being reviewed for Speech and Language Therapy and Occupational Therapy in co-production with a wide range of individuals including parents, special school heads, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists. 

Earlier this year, before Covid restrictions were in place workshops took place at four Parent Carer conferences around the county, putting parents and carers in the driving seat with regard to shaping the future of the services. Following this, further targeted virtual sessions took place, as did a number of face to face and telephone discussions.

The collated feedback for the SALT specification has been cross referenced with a report by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists; “Placing children and young people at the heart of delivering quality speech and language therapy”, ensuring that when the new specifications are in place families will see services focusing more on issues that are relevant to their circumstances.

You can read the Royal College report here.

Working Group 3 - Engagement and Co-Production

  • Re-establish and strengthen parents and carers trust and faith in the local area’s work
  • Establish and develop ways to ensure the close involvement of children, young people and their families in the co-production of the services, resources and support they need.

New Parent Carer Forum taking shape

Local Authorities have a statutory duty to involve and consult with parents and carers of disabled children. However, more than that it is recognised how much everyone benefits from the vast experience and expertise that parents, carers and children and young people themselves can bring.

In Cumbria the Cumbria Parent Carer Forum has historically been this statutory voice for families, children and young people with SEND, but it was wound up last year leaving a gap SEND provision. Although the group itself is no longer operating, the Parent Carer Forum FaceBook page remains active as it is an established and well used source of support for families. Work is now underway to set up a new Parent Carer Forum for Cumbria. The national charity Contact describe a Parent Carer Forum as 

"a group of parents and carers of disabled children. Their aim is to make sure the services in their area meet the needs of disabled children and their families."

You can read more about Parent Carer Forums here.

Four on-line engagement sessions have now been held, and a survey sent out which received 95 responses. More than 20 parents and carers expressed an interest in being on the committee of the new forum once it is set up.

A blueprint for what will happen next, based on what parents said, will be presented to the Improvement Board. The charity Contact will then help parents to set up the new forum in a way that works for them, and there will be more details about how you can get involved in this in coming newsletters, or you can register your interest by sending your name and contact details to us here.

Once established the new Parent Carer Forum will build a strong effective voice for families and improve service design and delivery by working in partnership with the whole SEND system. 

News appointments will help to co-produce and deliver improvements


Hayley Stewart

A dedicated Engagement and Communications Officer has joined the programme. Hayley Stewart, who is a SEND parent and has been very active in the Improvement Programme from the beginning, will help to co-ordinate communications, and work with parents/carers and children and young people to be involved in all areas where decisions about services happen.


Also appointed to the programme is dedicated Business Support Officer Marie Davidson. Marie is also a SEND parent and has worked for Cumbria County Council for 22 years, first in Corporate Services and latterly in Social Care. 




Marie Davidson
Sian Rees

Finally we are delighted to have Sian Rees coming onboard as the Strategic Lead for the SEND Improvement Programme. Sian has almost thirty years strategic, advisory and operational experience in service delivery and organisational development across a range of local government, not-for-profit and private sector organisations. She has extensive experience in leading improvement projects, and joins us from her most recent role with the Lancashire SEND Partnership where she has been leading the programme of improvement up to and following the inspection re-visit in March 2020.

Re-vamp for both Early Years and Short Breaks services will put families at the heart of designing provision

Plans are being developed to ensure that families have their say on Early Years services and Short Breaks services. 

The Engagement Plans will include surveys, online discussion and focus groups, FaceBook Live events, questionnaires and an on-line discussion board.

The feedback will be used to co-produce and shape the Learning Readiness approach (entitled Cumbria Together) and resources for Exploring your Local Area (50 things to do/see) for Early Years, and also to redesign service provision and commission new services for both Early Years and Short Breaks provision. 

Details of how you can get involved in both of these improvement projects will follow in coming newsletters.



Major redesign for the Autism Diagnostic Pathway underway

A major area of concern for families highlighted by the Ofsted inspection of 2019 was the inadequacies of the diagnostic pathway for Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the inequalities of access to, and quality of the pathway in different parts of the county. 

Some work has already been completed with families to co-produce a new diagnostic pathway, and more is planned. NHS England have commissioned North Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group and the Triple A Project, a local charity supporting adults with autism, to hold dedicated focus groups on the ASD diagnostic pathway in North Cumbria. The focus groups and engagements which will be held next year will help to shape a new diagnostic pathway for ASD that is fit for purpose and meets the needs of this cohort of families going forwards. Details of how you can get involved will follow in future newsletters.

Addressing the geographical inequalities that have historically been present in the system, both North Cumbria and Morecambe Bay Clinical Commissioning Groups are working together to make the pathway better and ensure that, even though implementation may differ because of the different organisations involved, the outcomes for children, young people and their families are consistent, no matter which part of the county they are in. 


Working Group 4 - Preparation for Adulthood

  • Improve the local area’s systems for ensuring a smooth transition between children and adult services and preparing children and young people for adulthood

First virtual Preparation for Adulthood fair hailed a success

Traditionally, Preparation for Adulthood fairs have been held at various locations around the county, but as this wasn't possible this year the fair moved online in a first for the Local Authority. 

Held at the beginning of October, the fair was very well received. Around 200 parents/carers accessed over 30 live webinars throughout the event.

25 organisations provided information for families on next steps in preparing their children and young people for adulthood and showcased some of the options available in terms of education, work and independent living. 

An evaluation of feedback from parents and the contributing organisations has been completed. 81.8% of parents said the event was extremely useful or very useful, and a number of key learning points were identified for future large virtual events, such as providing handout or slides to take away and recording of the main webinar sessions so families can access them at a later date. 


Virtual film premiere "Talk to Me" stars local young people with SEND 

The Grand Finale of the Preparation for Adulthood fair was the virtual film premiere of 'Talk to Me', a film made by and starring young people with SEND.

72 people attended the Premiere at the People First conference centre in Carlisle, where a small, socially distanced audience were joined online by over 60 viewers to watch the film for the first time.

'Talk to Me' seeks to encourage everyone to talk to young people themselves about their hopes and needs for their future as they move into adulthood. 

It provided a mechanism for the young people to speak directly about what they need and want as they move into adulthood. The young people created the film themselves with help from the Haltwhistle Film Project and were involved in all aspects of the film, from acting to creation of the props and operating the cameras. 

Feedback from some of the young people involved includes

"I was happy to do it"

"The film is getting that message into people's heads"

"It made me feel listened to... talk to me, that's how you'll find out"

The short film is powerful and uplifting and was warmly received by all. 

You can view the wonderful 'Talk to Me' here.  

transition film premier 2


Further Preparation for Adulthood updates


Preparation for Adulthood Route Planner nearing launch

A Preparation for Adulthood Route Planner has been developed in co-production with parents/carers, young people and services. It provides an easy-to-follow pathway and shows what should happen and when. The Route planner is for school year 9 onwards, and Transition Champions will be appointed to deliver training for staff and parents to ensure everyone knows how to use the Route Planner successfully.

Work begins to improve employment opportunities 

A new project to increase employment opportunities is set to launch. Working with the Careers Hub and local employers, the Local Authority is seeking to improve access to employment and increase awareness of the needs and talents of young people with SEND amongst local employers.

New Continuing Health Care pathway nurses recruited

Elaine Lawson has been appointed as the new Continuing Health Care (CHC) Transition nurse, to provide a single point of access for co-ordination of CHC assessments for young people who are moving into adult services and who may be eligible for a Continuing Health Care package. Elaine will ensure all relevant information is pulled together from the various agencies to complete the assessment on time, as part of the young person's Preparation for Adulthood Plan. In addition, three more new nurses have been appointed to review all current CHC packages at least twice yearly.

Working Group 5 - Emotional Health and Wellbeing

  • Strengthen and develop the approach to support the emotional health and wellbeing of children and young people with SEND, particularly those with ASD, who face challenges in relation to their social, emotional and mental health.
wellbeing image

Waiting times reduced through joint working

Joint working between CAMHS and Learning Disability Services on training and support is now in place. There are now weekly discussions for any new referrals where it is unclear which service would best meet the need. This has led to individualised assessments, joint appointments, and joint working with psychology, psychiatry, CAMHS practitioners and learning disability practitioners. This is reducing the time that families are waiting for support and eliminating the need for families to re-tell their story to multiple professionals.

Face to face appointments are still happening where needed. Remote appointments by phone and video are being used in addition, and this has led to improved access to services. Feedback from families has found that some young people, especially some with Autism, prefer remote appointments and find it easier to engage this way. Therefore access to remote appointments via phone and video call will continue to be offered where the child or young person is more comfortable engaging this way, and where it is clinically appropriate, even after Covid.

Additional resources for mental health services to cope with expected rise in demand

Covid has had a big impact on Mental Health across the county. Referrals are already increasing. There isn't yet data on the number of referrals of children and young people with SEND, but it’s to be expected that referrals for this cohort will increase too and work is underway to prepare for this expected rise.

Joint working will improve triage of cases, and more resources have been put into digital support platforms. More information is available here.

Kooth is available to offer support for children and young people, and in addition both North and South Cumbria CCGs have commissioned ‘Together All’, a digital support service for people aged 16+, which offers support for our 16-25 age group. Both are free services, and for 'Together All' you just need a Cumbrian postcode to register.

Working Group 6 - SEN Support

  • Ensure consistent application of the local area’s strategy for identifying, assessing and meeting the needs of children and young people at the SEN Support stage.
Early Years

SEND Associate General Advisor appointed

A SEND Associate general advisor has been appointed within the Learning Support Service. This new post will focus on strengthening SEN support across all schools in the county.

SEND Toolkit launch imminent

Development of the SEND toolkit is well underway and is due to be launched in December 2020. The Toolkit is a document which has been created by professionals and will support schools in meeting the needs of SEN pupils in a consistent way across the county when it is launched.


Updated guidance for schools will improve provision for pupils 


Streamlined process for Early Help referral introduced

The process for referring children and young people for support through the Early Help process has been simplified and improved. Schools who identify children or young people with SEN who need additional support, for example access to a Specialist Advisory Teacher, will now find the process easier and quicker to administrate which should lead to faster access to support for the children and young people involved.

Updated SEND Admissions guidance Issued for schools

Updated SEND admissions guidance has been issued for all schools, and training and support on this will be given. The new guidance will ensure all schools are aware of their legal obligations and are supported to meet SEND needs where the school is named as parental preference. Schools must now give the Local Authority information relating to any specific reasons why they may not be able to make a place available for a child or young person with SEND. This will ensure that the process is clear and transparent and that all schools follow the same process.

New Part Time Timetable Information sets out obligations

New Part Time Timetable Information has been issued to all schools. Pupils should not be on a part time timetable for a long period of time with no plan for this to end. The new guidance will ensure schools have a plan for all SEND children and young people on a part time timetable to move back to full time within an appropriate timescale. The Local Authority can now monitor this more consistently and will provide support and challenge as needed.

And finally...

virtual meeting

a message from the whole SEND Improvement Programme team. Although none of us know what this winter will bring we remain committed to delivering the improvements which we know are vital to ensure Cumbria does it's very best for children and young people with SEND and their families. We recognise that the pandemic creates additional anxieties and vulnerabilities for some of our SEND families, and want to assure you that we will work together to continue to support you through this difficult time. You can find information and support here. We wish you and your family all the very best.