A new strategy has been drawn up in a bid to improve support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and their families in Hertfordshire.

The strategy sets out the county council’s SEND aspirations and priorities for the next three years (2022-25) and takes increased demand and the impact of COVID-19 into account.

Its aims include the provision of personalised services that are flexible and meet individual needs for children and young people with SEND to achieve success in all areas of life.

It also sets out an aim to meet children’s needs by providing sufficient and appropriate provision – working in partnership with other organisations.

Last Monday (November 15) the strategy was approved by a meeting of the council’s cabinet ahead of a planned launch in January.

“Hertfordshire County Council is committed to developing, supporting and providing for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities,” said executive member for children, young people and families Cllr Teresa Heritage.

“The SEND strategy 2022-25 sets out the council’s vision, aspirations and priorities for the next three years and seeks to ensure its continuous improving support for families.”

Cllr Heritage said that since the launch of the council’s last SEND strategy there have been "significant improvements".

And she highlighted the "significantly increased investment" in SEND funding for mainstream schools – increasing from £9.5m to £17.5m this year.

But she said: “We know we still have more to do and need to go further to make sure the needs of all children and young people with SEND are met.”

Backing the strategy, council leader Cllr Richard Roberts referenced increases in funding to reflect the current pressures within SEND teams.

He said: “Post-pandemic we see the emergence of additional need coming from families.

“If you like, it has been held in abeyance during Covid and now teams are under great pressure to deal with some of the backlog, as well as all of those coming through in the normal day-to-day.

“So I would like to personally thank all of those working in special educational needs and working with this new strategy – hopefully, to bring clarity and flexibility and the kind of joined-up services we need to support those with families who are looking after their loved ones with special educational needs.”

Last week the strategy was also backed by a meeting of the council’s children young people and families cabinet panel.

But at that meeting, the findings of a survey by SEND National Crisis Hertfordshire were also addressed.

The survey – said to include responses from 170 parents – pointed to some concerns relating to SEND provision in the county.

Director of children’s services Jo Fisher acknowledged that caseloads in the county’s SEND teams were too high, which, she said, undermined the effectiveness of the teams as a whole.

She pointed to a recent £1.5m investment into SEND teams, in order to build resilience and capacity of front-line teams to do a good job.

Referencing the survey she highlighted key messages such as "I can’t get hold of my SEND officer", "they are not replying to my calls" or "there is not enough SEND provision in the county". She said they were at the heart of the SEND strategy.

“We take them very seriously. We have heard those messages and we are acting on them,” she said.

In addition, Ms Fisher highlighted 230 new special school places created in the county in the past couple of years – in addition to the creation of an additional 70 places this autumn.

Over the next four years, she said there would be more than 340 new special school places – and at least 200 special resource provision places for children with autism and communication difficulties.

Ms Fisher said: “There is a huge amount of work in hand to address some of the really important points that have come out of that survey.”

At the meeting of the cabinet panel, Cllr Heritage said she had an ambition for Hertfordshire to be one of the best performing councils in the country for SEND. She told councillors, "we are doing the best with what we have."

Liberal Democrat Cllr Mark Watkin said he welcomed the strategy and said it was “a tremendous statement of intent”.

But he said they want to keep a close eye on how it measured up against the intentions of officers. Following the meeting Cllr Watkin pointed to the number of SEND officers.

He said: “It is all very well having a good strategy, but it counts for nothing if the county does not provide sufficient officers to support and advise families.

“It is deeply worrying that the county has failed and fails to communicate with its families.

“This is no criticism of individual officers, but there are just not enough of them.

“The Conservative-run administration has to bite the bullet and resource this service properly otherwise the misery and the life changing damage to these children will continue.”

According to the strategy, as of 2019/20, there were 27,565 pupils receiving SEN support in the county’ schools.