Somerset Headteachers up In arms

The Somerset Association of Secondary Heads (SASH) has written in damning terms to Somerset County Council. In particular they complain about the relationship with Director Of Children’s Services (DCS), Julian Wooster. The dispute revolves around the High Needs Element of the DSG (Dedicated Schools Grant).

Various proposals for how to fund this bit of the budget have gone to and from between the two parties. Mr Wooster has reassured the head teachers that the budget can be managed without redundancies. However Mr Wooster himself has a lot on his plate. In December it was announced he would become Chairman of Children’s Services for Northamptonshire. This is in addition to his role as Director of Children’s Services for Somerset.

Since then, and specifically over the past two months, the head teachers complain that the relationship has deteriorated. Their letter notes: “Our major concern as a group of school leaders is the lack of confidence we have in the DCS to lead and manage the change with High Needs Budget.”

The most recent meeting between the parties to resolve matters does not seem to have worked. The letter from SASH notes: “Following the meeting yesterday, these concerns about leadership have become acute. When pressed
yesterday the DCS stated publicly that he was very confident that £2.4m of savings could be made ‘in year’ by schools and that he believed this could be achieved without redundancies. When pressed for details of how this would work, he could not provide any indication of how this could be achieved
.”

Bridgwater and West Somerset MP, Ian Liddell Grainger has now offered his pennyworth. He told The Leveller® “Today I have written to the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson asking him to intervene. It is unacceptable for our key educationalists to be ignored for so long by an overpaid council overlord”

Nor surprisingly this is not the way Somerset County Council see it. Their spokesman told The Leveller®: “We are grateful for all the hard work our schools and our head teachers have carried out, and continue to provide, during the pandemic to support all students across Somerset. We note the points in the private letter – this is clearly a long-running debate and although we disagree with much of the content within the letter we are happy to confirm that we will engage with SASH and explore solutions where appropriate. We will seek prompt resolution that will enable our joint collective and important work helping students of all abilities across our county.

“As SASH correctly point out in their letter, in addition to the £340m mainstream school funding there is a £60m high needs element of the schools grant which supports the education of our most vulnerable children. This funds the excellent special schools and bases, and pupil referral units in Somerset, and also pays for specialist provision for students whose needs cannot be met in Somerset Schools. We recognise that the current level of this grant from government is not sufficient to meet all the needs in Somerset, however the proportion of Somerset children needing support from this grant continues to grow rapidly and we are asking schools to look at ways they can support more children with special educational needs in their schools, so that this grant can go to those most in need.

It is disappointing that SCC appears to be criticised at a time we are investing £1.7m, on top of additional funding of £7m by government, into this budget by picking up the costs of specialist education advisors and investing £46m million in building new special school places.

One point we are happy to comment on publicly is our complete confidence in Julian Wooster as our Director of Children’s Services. Not only is he doing an outstanding job supporting and championing the interests of all Somerset children, but he has been nationally recognised as a leader in this area with his recent additional appointment as chair of the Northamptonshire Children’s Trust.”

2 comments

  • Not surprised head’s up arms my sons ehcp came in this week they cut his 1-1 and medical training out of but still expected the school to provide everything that 1-1 did what left it unsafe for my son to return to school which a shame he done really well since start at this school and friends

  • The facts speak to the truth

    Somerset had an “inadequate” rating (in my view a failing service) from Ofsted for its Children’s Services back in 2015.

    A few years back the outgoing Finance Director, before he left, complained publicly about Mr Wooster agreeing an annual budget with significant uplifts but then that expanded budget having significant overspends. This had happened several years in a row and was part of the issue around the County Council having reserves that so low the external auditors drew attention to it.

    2017 Ofsted extract:

    “An experienced and committed director of children’s services (DCS) has appropriately
    focused on engaging partner agencies in improvement and, at a senior level, there is
    good engagement and understanding of the practice issues. This is not always
    replicated in the multi-agency responses that children receive, and too many
    children’s circumstances have to be escalated to senior leaders for effective action by
    partners, especially health and the police.

    While no children were found to be at immediate risk of harm during this inspection,
    the quality of practice remains variable and managers do not always challenge poor
    practice. Children’s assessments and plans remain inconsistent, and do not
    adequately capture children’s cultural and identity needs. Social workers do not
    update assessments regularly enough.”

    2019 Ofsted extract:

    “The quality of service that children receive is too variable across the county. In some
    areas, children receive a timely and proportionate response that reduces risk and
    improves their experiences, whereas in other areas the quality of practice remains
    too variable. While the local authority has taken a range of actions to address
    practice deficits in these areas, including increased management oversight and
    capacity, it recognises that there is further work to be done to ensure that all
    children in Somerset receive an effective service.

    In a significant minority of cases seen, it is hard to know what life is really like for
    the children by reading the social workers’ assessments. Some families are also
    unclear about what needs to change and by when due to the variable quality of
    plans.

    In families where there is domestic abuse, social workers sometimes focus on the
    non-abusive parent’s capacity to protect, and they do not routinely engage with
    perpetrators in order to address their behaviour and its impact on their children. This
    sometimes results in short-term improvements for children that are not able to be
    sustained.

    What needs to improve in this area of social work practice
     the extent to which the child’s experience of family life informs decision-making
     communication with families about how long assessments are going to take and
    what social workers hope to achieve
     consistency in the quality of practice with children across the local authority
     engagement with perpetrators in families where there is domestic abuse.”

    Mr Wooster, despite many years of substantially increased budgets, has only moved the Ofsted dial from “inadequate” to “requires improvement to be Good” i.e. the Children’s Services across Somerset are yet to be rated by Ofsted as “Good”.

    This is hardly transformational progress is it?

    Nor would Mr Wooster’s performance over 4+ years appear to merit the glowing PR in the County Council response above. If he is “outstanding” then why are the Children’s Services across Somerset still falling short of a “Good” rating by Ofsted?

    There is much work still to be done here in Somerset to get Children’s Services to a “Good” rating , so why is Mr Wooster up in Northants?

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