Parents and carers of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities in Surrey “overwhelmingly” lack confidence in the county council, regulators have found.
A joint inspection by Ofsted and Care Quality Commission said concerns were caused by “continuing difficulties” in securing “timely and accurate” assessments and plans for children’s needs.
The report, published today, said Surrey CC and the six local clinical commissioning groups were making slow progress in tackling a “significant backlog” of assessment applications, with half of cases delayed.
Inspectors said the strength of dissatisfaction with assessment outcomes and “weak” content of health and education plans had resulted in high rates of appeal to first tier tribunal.
The report adds: “A large proportion of appeals are settled before tribunals take place, indicating an acceptance by the local area that these are likely to be successful.
“A high proportion of tribunals are found in favour of the parent.”
Inspectors said changes in senior council leadership in the last year had been welcomed by parents, schools, health commissioners and providers.
“Nevertheless, parents and school leaders are clear that insufficient improvement is evident,” they added.
As a result of the “significant concerns” raised by the report Surrey CC and CCGs have been ordered to submit a “Written Statement of Action” to Ofsted explaining how weakness would be tackled.
Surrey is the second council to be required to submit an improvement plan under an inspection framework for new duties to children with special educational needs outlined in the Children and Families Act 2014.
Rochdale MBC was instructed to submit plan due to failings outlined in a report published last month.
The act included a new code of practice which required councils to set out support available in the local area and involve parents and children in decision making.
The report says Ofsted inspections suggest strong provision in the area for children with special educational needs.
It adds: “Parents are generally complementary about the provision schools make, while being highly critical of the way the local area works centrally”.
Weaknesses in information management systems were found to limit the coordination of information and impact on service leaders’ ability to monitor the performance of staff and hold them to account for “the rapid improvement that is required”.
“In addition, parents and schools continue to experience widely varying quality of service from the county’s four administrative areas,” it added.
However, the report said school leaders and representatives of families had commented positively that the authorities were now “listening”, with parents more recently seeking support receiving a quicker response.
It adds: “Nevertheless, the systematic involvement of parents and carers in planning, monitoring and evaluating services is not well established.
“In addition, the range of parents whose views are considered by leaders is limited.”
A Surrey CC spokesman said: “The inspectors recognised the progress we’ve made so far and said that all young people they met felt happy, safe and well cared for but we know there is much more to do and we’re all focused on making the changes needed at a time of rising demand for services in this area.”