Failing our Special Educational Needs Children is Shameful and Must Stop, say Oldham Liberal Democrats

A report released this month from Ofsted and the Quality Care Commission has condemned Oldham Council for its provision for children and young people with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and/or disabilities. The Oldham Liberal Democrat Group is calling on the Labour Administration to take urgent action to meet the recommendations outlined in the report.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Garth Harkness, Shadow Cabinet Member for Employment and Skills and an Autism Spectrum Disorder lead teacher at a Manchester school, said:

“Although the inspectors found some good practice and some motivated staff, it is clear from this report that there is a serious disconnect between what should be happening to meet the accepted standards of good practice and what is all-too-often happening on the ground and in our classrooms in Oldham.

“A child or young person with SEN, such as autism, and/or disabilities has just as much right to expect an excellent education as any other pupil. The inspectors refer to the many children and young people with these conditions who possess a ‘stunning conviction and a humbling humility about the work they do to improve the lives of their peers’. It is unforgiveable and it is shameful if we as a Council and as an education authority continue to fail them in this way, and this failure must stop.”

The condemnatory report called for a Written Statement of Action to be produced because of ‘significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice’.

Councillor Harkness added: “We have had a long standing problem in Oldham in providing the best start for our children and young people with additional needs. As someone who works in specialist Autism Spectrum Disorder provision myself and who works closely with the Local Authority in Manchester on Special Educational Needs and Disabilities I know how important it is to provide the right support to these youngsters.”

Yet the report says that: ‘Oldham is one of the worst-achieving areas nationally for educational achievement for this group of children. This prevalent poor achievement is exacerbated by high levels of fixed-term exclusions and persistent absences from school for children and young people who have SEN and/or disabilities.’

The report also highlights that school transport is flawed and that ‘children and young people wait too long for the needs to be identified.’

Councillor Harkness said: “This is simply unacceptable. We are leaving these children behind, abandoning them educationally. By not properly accessing the needs of these children, and the support that they need, at an early enough stage – sometimes not until they move from primary to secondary school – we are making it more likely that they will underperform at school. By excluding them and tolerating poor attendance, we are exacerbating this problem, and by having a school transport system that is not up to the challenge we make it harder to encourage parents to send their children to school in the first place.

“The Oldham Liberal Democrat Group’s score on the performance of the Labour Administration based on the findings of this report is an F – for Failure. This is not just about ‘could do better’, this is about ‘must do better’ and now, because this Council has spent a fortune on the Oldham Education Commission but it continues to let our most vulnerable young people down.

“The Oldham Liberal Democrats want to see every child and young person in our Borough achieve as much as they possibly can in education and in life so that they can fulfill their true potential. As always we are willing to work with the Labour Administration if they genuinely want to work with us in achieving this laudable objective.”

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