A council chief has apologised for failings in services for children with special educational needs and disabilities following a damning inspection report.

Oxfordshire’s local area partnership (LAP) said it has “committed to significant change” to SEND services following an inspection by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission in July.

Inspectors identified "widespread and systemic failings" which must be addressed urgently.

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The LAP,  made up of Oxfordshire County Council and NHS Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West (BOB) Integrated Care Board (ICB) and including Oxford Health and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trusts, now has 30 days to come up with an action plan.

Stephen Chandler, Oxfordshire County Council’s interim executive director, people, transformation and performance, said: “I am so sorry we have let families down.

"We fully and unequivocally accept the findings of this report. We must and will do better together as a partnership.

“We care deeply about improving the lives of children and young people and supporting them, along with their families, to thrive.

"We are determined to make significant changes so we can provide families with a better quality of service at the time they need it most.”

Around 2,000 parents and carers shared their views with inspectors.

The inspection team said  "a tangible sense of helplessness" runs through their descriptions.

The report said the agencies "do not work cohesively to ensure that children and young people get the right help at the right time".

It criticised "frequent changes and interim arrangements in important roles" impacting ability to make sustainable change and undermining confidence in the leadership.

It said the lack of provision is "a significant area of concern".

"Too many children and young people are unable to access the education provision they need. Some wait for years."

And while many schools prioritise transition work due to "delays to decision-making and naming suitable placements, this work is undone".

The inspectors recognised that the number of education, health and care (EHC) plans produced within the 20-week statutory time limit has recently improved from just 4 per cent.

But "frequently they do not describe the child or young person accurately enough to ensure that their needs are met effectively."

Parents and carers reported poor communication within and across the partnership.

Co-chairs of Oxfordshire Parent Carers Forum (OxPCF) Jules Francis-Sinclair and Stephanie Harrison said they "recognised the systemic failings identified".

"We share the frustration of local families about the consistent and repeated lack of action, duty and care in many areas.

“We reiterate our commitment to providing a channel for the voice of local families and hope that the findings of this inspection will lead to much needed improvements in SEND services and outcomes for children and young people across Oxfordshire.”

Inspectors acknowledged some strengths, saying all agencies involved have "a sharp focus on working together" and many young people in adult social care receive effective assessment and intervention.

Where specialist teams and practitioners are involved, such as the children’s disability team, children and young people are effectively assessed and supported and their transitions are well organised.

Early years practitioners also get useful training and advice from the SEN inclusion team. 

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Following the inspection the county council said it "will continue to build extra capacity" in the SEND team "to keep improving the timeliness of EHC plans".

It will also hold additional sessions online and in-person with families, children and young people and professionals in addition to existing meetings with the parent carer forum and other groups.

Rachael Corser, NHS Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West ICB’s chief nursing officer, said: “We understand the frustration of parents, carers and families in Oxfordshire over the delays and confusion they face when trying to get help for their children.

“As health and care partners, we’re committed to building on the good work already being done in Oxfordshire, which the report acknowledges, and to make rapid progress in improving everything that must be done much better.”