Parents of children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) are having to “fight to get the help that they need” from Kirklees Council, according to a critical Ofsted inspection report.

The council’s Children’s Scrutiny Panel asked probing questions about a report described by one councillor as “very damning.”

A joint Ofsted and Care Quality Commission inspection of how Kirklees helps SEND children found “significant areas of weakness” where the council must provide a written statement on how it plans to address the problems.

The report said that:

  • Families have experienced “barriers in accessing the support they need in a timely manner;”
  • There are weaknesses in how well professionals identify the needs of children and young people with SEND;
  • Many parents express dissatisfaction with their experience of the SEND system in Kirklees. “They feel they have to fight to get the help that they need;”
  • Families are “frustrated” with the “long waiting times for the services they need;”
  • Children and young people with SEND in mainstream schools in Kirklees are more likely to be suspended than children nationally.

In his letter to the council following the February visit, Ofsted inspector Malcolm Kirtley said parents were having to wait too long for a diagnosis and, in some cases, families had paid for private health assessments to overcome the delays.

He also said children’s needs were not consistently recognised in primary schools, which put increased pressure on secondary schools down the line.

Speaking at the Huddersfield Town Hall meeting, Clr James Homewood (Lab, Ashbrow) said: “Even parents who are actively saying my child has got a problem with special educational needs cannot get that recognised or get the support they need.

“But what actually is the problem here? If someone is clearly saying ‘my child has special educational needs, I need support’ why is it not there? Is it just a financial issue? Why does it take two years and external paid-for reports to identify the issues?

“If a parent is telling us there’s a problem why can’t we assess that and find out? I’m just trying to understand what the fundamental issue is.”

In response the council’s service director Tom Brailsford said: “It’s a complex issue. In terms of identification of need, I would say looking at our figures, we don’t have that many problems in identifying need. In terms of the content of the letter, without getting too controversial, I would not agree with that.”

He added: “The types of things you were referring to are quite difficult and are usually in relation to health services.

“For example, people needing an external report, it might be they have waited a long time for an autism assessment and what they have done is gone somewhere privately and got that autism assessment. Or they might be waiting a long time for speech and language or other areas and that’s completely unacceptable. We don’t want those long waits.

“It’s not financial, that’s not what drives our decision making. What we want to do is offer children, young people and families the support at the earliest possible opportunity so things don’t have to escalate and parents aren’t waiting a long time to receive the support they need.”

Clr Paul White (Ind, Holme Valley North) described the report as “very damning.” He said the report indicated that “we have let a lot of families down.”

He added: “It seems from parents that there’s a real battle that you have to have with authority and, from my own experience, I absolutely know that. It’s a constant battle and you get to the point where you think you can’t be bothered with this.

“There are elements (in the report) that really suggest that Kirklees has not been in a good place for the last decade.

“I do understand and can see there’s so much good work going on to address (the issues) but there still needs to be a real acknowledgement that a lot of families have been let down.”

The panel was told that a Transformation Plan was already in place and many of the issues raised by the Ofsted report were being dealt with.

Clr Viv Kendrick, Cabinet member for children’s services, said what shocked her about the Ofsted report was that it did not reflect the positive feedback given by inspectors at the time.

“I don’t see it as a damning report,” she said. “I see it as a report where it identifies things we knew about and things we are working on. There were no surprises. I just don’t want people to feel it’s such a damning report because it isn’t.

“There’s many positives in there but that does not mean we should be self-satisfied and we will continue to improve.”