Inspectors have praised services for children with Special Educational Needs (SEND) in Manchester following a rigorous 5-day inspection last November, and say they have continued to improve despite the pandemic.
During their visit inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission spoke with children and and young people with special educational needs, parents and carers, and with council and health service staff, as well visiting a range of providers in the city.
The clear vision of local leaders for improving the outcomes of children and young people with SEND was praised by inspectors who said their vision is communicated to stakeholders with passion and ambition. Inspectors noted the progress and pace of change in improving the quality of provision for children and families in Manchester since the 2014 Children and Families Act SEND reforms came in, and said leaders know what is working well in the city and what the priorities are for further action.
Another key strength identified by inspectors included the strong working relationship with parents and carers through the Parent Carer Forum which works in partnership with city leaders on the key strategic and operational SEND boards. Inspectors found the forum both challenges and supports area leaders in equal measure, acting as a critical friend to ensure leaders' plans incorporate the views, wishes, and feelings of parents and carers across the city.
Inspectors also highlighted the culture of co-production and collaborative working in Manchester and the strength of multi-agency working between professionals who inspectors say work well with parents, children, and young people, and know each other well.
Putting the views of children and young people at the heart of decision-making through the 'changemakers' - a large group of volunteer children and young people with SEND in the city who work closely with area leaders to help shape future projects and to challenge existing services, was also noted by inspectors as a positive.
Despite the pandemic, inspectors found that leaders have continued to make improvements and that they recognised the considerable strain some families were under and thought carefully about what children and young people with SEND needed during this difficult time - acting swiftly from the start of the first national restrictions, and working with the parent carer forum to provide many families with resources, such as 'sensory bags' delivered to their door.
No serious weaknesses were identified by inspectors who noted the capacity of city leaders to make any changes necessary in the few areas identified for further improvement - all of which had already been identified by leaders themselves and have robust improvement plans in place.
Councillor Garry Bridges, Executive Member for Children and Schools, Manchester City Council, said: "We welcome the findings of inspectors following what was a very comprehensive and rigorous inspection of SEND provision in Manchester.
"One of the key things they remarked on was the strength of relationships in the city, both between professionals, and between professionals and the families they support. This is a credit to everyone involved and I want to thank all staff whether they work in the council, health, schools, or elsewhere, and pay tribute to them and also to parents and young people themselves for working together so effectively in ways that really do make a difference.
"We're very pleased that the many strengths of the services provided across the city to help and support our families have been recognised by inspectors.
"We're far from complacent however and remain committed to continue working closely with parents, carers and children and young people both to build on these strengths, and to make any further improvements in those areas we need to."
The findings of inspectors have now been published and can be found here