As a local area, all partners that work together across SEND have been working in coproduction to update Bolton’s SEND priorities for the next few years. The work has been led by the multi-agency SEND Steering group, which is chaired by Sue Cornwell, Head of SEN for Bolton.

To ensure that parents and carers view are fully incorporated in the priorities we gathered together parents and carers views from all the work we have done over the last year and developed the top 9 priorities that we feel Bolton needs to address for children and young people with SEND. It would be easy to make a list of recommendations that focus on funding – or lack of it; however we have chosen to look at recommendations that do not require significant funding. There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for the lack of funding for SEND from central government, therefore our recommendations target utilising what we already have in Bolton, sharing expertise enhancing access to information and tackling hearts and minds.

In no particular order:

1 SEN Support

The vast majority of children and young people who have special educational needs, will be supported in education through SEN Support. However parents and carers experiences of understanding what should be provided and having trust in this support to help their children to progress is low.  We recommend that there needs to be better information available for parents, carers and professionals across the sector to better understand the scope of SEN Support.

2 Diagnostic Pathways

Like most areas in the country, the waiting time for services to diagnoses autism and ADHD, and to be seen by CAMHS is long. Additionally some of the pathways can seem confusing for families when navigating them, especially if they are turned down and bounced between services. We recommend that better information about diagnostic pathways, and information whilst on the journey needs to be improved. Also, more access for school staff to be able to access information/training about conditions where their referrals are very important.

3 School Attendance

We are aware from parents that here are increasing numbers of children unable to attend school due to emotionally based school avoidance (EBSA). There are very mixed approaches to this across the borough and our recommendation is that we need a borough wide approach to EBSA, including more support for families. The transition to secondary school can be a trigger point for school avoidance and we have recommended that there needs to be a look at how the area can improve the transition between primary and secondary school.

4 Mainstream Inclusion

We have more and more reports from parents about difficulties in school due to issues around uniform, sanctions and when mainstream settings should generally be doing more to be more inclusive. There is a significant increase in demand for specialist settings, which on the whole relates to need; however there are increasing numbers of children who could progress well in mainstream with better approaches to inclusion, specifically around conditions such as autism and ADHD. We recommend that schools are reminded of their duties under the Equality Act 2010.

5 EHC Plan’s and Placements

Parents frequently share their frustrations around decision making for placements for children with EHC Plans; where decisions can take much too long, with little communication along the way. We have recommended that annual review processes are shared with schools to ensure that annual reviews are being carried out in a timely manner and effectively; and also that the decision making process around school placements is made more transparent for families.

6 Family Support

Parents frequently report that they struggle with their children’s behaviour at home, which is linked to their SEN. All too often parents tell us that their child’s school reports that they are ‘fine’ in school, and there is therefore nothing that can be offered to support. We have recommended that there needs to be some guidance and resources created for settings around masking to help settings understand the challenges of pupils in school who are expending energies on masking. We have also recommended that the local offer needs to be updated with more substantial information about the universal and targeted offer for families with children with SEND, and where they can go for activities, which can often be very supportive.

7 Preparing for Adulthood

As with many areas, the transition the adulthood and beyond continues to be a theme raised by parents and carers. Our recommendations around PFA are that there needs to be a consideration of how travel training could be addressed. Additionally that a toolkit for parents and carers is coproduced to support families through what can be quite a complicated time. And also that secondary settings, especially mainstream, are better informed with information about PFA for their pupils.

8 Wraparound and Childcare

Childcare is regularly raised as an issue for SEND parents, including breakfast and afterschool clubs and holiday clubs. We have shared with local colleagues how hard it can be to remain in work when you have a child with additional needs and that there needs to be an improvement in availability of childcare for children with SEND.

9 Wider Community

Whilst we have some fabulous organisations in Bolton who provide activities for children and young people with SEND, there are many families who report that they struggle to find the right type of activity for their children, especially as they get older and seek some more independence. We have recommended that the local offer is utilised to promote organisations that are established, as well as considering how local organisations are able to access funding to keep providing, and developing new activities for children and young people with SEND.

All these priorities were presented to the SEND Steering Group and members issued with a detailed handout of parents and carers experiences. As work progresses to finalise the priorities for the upcoming period, the experiences of parents and carers, and children and young people will be at the heart of the work that takes place.

What’s the point of having a list of priorities?

A lot of strategic work can feel like administrative box ticking exercises – for instance, having a “SEND Vision,” which amounts to some words on a page! The priorities do however take on a more powerful way of addressing SEND in Bolton. Amongst other things, the last set of priorities saw the Local Offer being fully redesigned, the SEND Handbook being produced and the creation of the Preparing for Adulthood Forum. The next set of priorities, they are updated every five years, will see multi-agency focus on what needs to be improved. Specific groups will be formed to look at what, and who, needs to address the issues, and the work is tracked for progress via the SEND Steering Group. Throughout the process, parents and carers views are continually included, and ‘How is Bolton Doing?’ focus groups will be organised where parents and carers can feed into the work of the priorities.