Henderson’s ‘leaving present’: Kingston’s Ofsted failure

Another local authority has failed a visit by Ofsted inspectors, this time nearby Kingston for its poor delivery of services for children and young adults with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, or SEND.

For parents and carers in Kingston, the 11-page report from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, published today, is widely regarded as “Robert Henderson’s leaving present”.

Henderson was Kingston council’s director of children’s services. The highly critical report from Ofsted and CQC is addressed to him. But Henderson has left his job at Kingston, and their failing SEND department. He’s landed himself a bigger, better-paid job elsewhere. Just before Christmas, Robert Henderson is due to take over as executive director for children, families and education in… Croydon.

Henderson’s predecessor in the role, Barbara Peacock, left her £170,000 job somewhat abruptly last April. Henderson will take on Croydon’s failing children’s services department, which a year ago was placed into special measures following a damning Ofsted inspectors’ report, exhibiting “widespread and serious failures”, and which left “some children at risk of significant harm”.

Given today’s Ofsted report into the performance of Henderson’s department in Kingston for SEND, that bit of his job interview in Croydon where he might have been asked what experience he has with failed or failing children’s services departments might have been interesting…

Or maybe the matter was never raised?

When announcing Henderson’s appointment, Croydon Council described him as having, “a strong track record in driving transformation to bring ‘good’ services to the heart of local communities”. Oh.

It was following a visit from Ofsted inspectors conducted in July 2017 that Croydon’s children’s services department was deemed “inadequate”. Since then, families in the borough with children and young adults with SEND have been keen to get the inspectors to return and examine the council’s working practices in their area, convinced that they are being poorly served by their council.

Certainly, Croydon families who have seen today’s Ofsted report on Kingston say that they feel one paragraph in particular reflects their own experiences here:

“Most parents who contributed to the inspection are unhappy with the local area. They cite significant concerns, notably about communication to and from the local area, instability in staffing and the management of the transfer process of statements of special educational needs to Education, health and care plans (EHC plans). These parents have lost confidence in the local area to meet their children’s needs effectively in a timely way.”

Robert Henderson: has a record of ‘transformation’, according to new employers Croydon Council

The Kingston Ofsted inspection was conducted in September, just before Croydon Council announced that Henderson had been appointed here.

Sources in Katharine Street suggest that they have had an indication that Ofsted may well be due to inspect Croydon Council’s SEND provision some time soon – and very early in Henderson’s tenure.

In Kingston, according to Ofsted, EHC plans “are of poor quality”. EHC plans are vital for providing proper education placements for children.

Other low-lights from Kingston’s Ofsted report include:

  • Overall, too many children and young people with SEN and/or disabilities do not receive the support and provision required to meet their needs;
  • Improvement planning is weak;
  • EHC Plans are of poor quality, due to failure to ensure that health professionals contribute; a lack of outcomes and provision specifically tailored to the individual needs of the child; over-emphasis on education outcomes and provision, with in particular a disregard for health and social care detail;
  • Too many transfers from Statements where professionals knew they were not fit for purpose;
  • Too many EHCPs and annual reviews do not follow the Code of Practice, with parents having to push for specific provision and failing to get responses;
  • Lack of planning for the number of EHCPs required and for to meet demand for therapies such as occupational therapy;
  • Leaders acknowledge that health and social care are not tracking and monitoring health and social care needs and outcomes;
  • Waiting times for diagnostic neurodevelopmental assessments and to access SALT and OT services are too long;
  • No effective tracking and identifying of children with SEN support and who are also vulnerable;
  • Transition into adult health services is underdeveloped and inconsistently managed;
  • Some schools are using part-time (and therefore unlawful) timetables inappropriately.

You can read the report in full here.

While at Kingston, one of Henderson’s “reforms” was the partial outsourcing of the borough’s children’s services, through the establishment of a Community Interest Company, jointly with neighbouring borough Richmond. The CIC is called Achieving for Children.

Through the distribution of grant funding to service providers, who are often volunteer-run charities, Kingston and Richmond under Henderson sought to reduce the costs of providing statutory services.

Just as Henderson was lining himself up for a big new job in Croydon, one service-provider charity, SEND Family Voices, announced it would cease to operate from October 1. It claimed it had been forced out of existence by … Achieving for Children, who was accused of blocking their application for grant funding, the charity’s only significant source of money.

The Ofsted inspectors mentioned this breakdown between Henderson’s Achieving for Children and SEND families, stating, “Overall, leaders have not ensured that they have established a productive and positive relationship with parents and/or their representatives.”

Until May, Kingston was a Tory-controlled council. At this year’s local elections, the LibDems regained power and today their leader, Liz Green, spoke about how Henderson’s departure as director of children’s services offers them the chance of a “fresh start”.

“We are confident that we can take the service forward in the future, but only if we change to seeing parents/carers and schools as partners,” said Green, pictured right.

“We can have a fresh start, with the Education Commission, a change in director of children’s services, a new political administration and new CEO to make this happen, and this inspection has given us details of where our initial focus needs to be.”

Meanwhile, this afternoon, the branch of turf accountant Paddy Power in Croydon town centre was offering short odds-on that Henderson had convinced his new boss, Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini, Croydon’s CEO, that he could introduce an Achieving for Children-style CIC once he gets his feet under his shiny new desk in the executive offices of Fisher’s Folly next year.

For more background on this story:

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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