WIRRAL Council has been served with a damning notice three years after families were “pushed to the limits, emotionally, financially and physically.”

The Department for Education published an improvement notice today, on May 15, ordering the local authority to act up due to “poor progress” in addressing ten areas of “significant concern” highlighted in a 2021 inspection by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission. This report looked into services for young people and children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND.)

The 2021 report said the council has been “two slow” to implement reforms from 2014 with changes following “the letter of the reforms, not the spirit.” Its plans lacked “sufficient detail” while families and carers said “the system is broken.” The report said promises hadn’t been delivered, with many families feeling “completely let down.”

That report added: “Often, families are pushed to the limits, emotionally, financially and physically. They feel overlooked and ignored as well as blamed for asking for the help that their children need. 

“Furthermore, a lack of communication from the area to parents and carers exacerbates their frustrations. This experience is magnified for those parents whose children have hidden disabilities.”

While some frontline workers, support for the most vulnerable, and new leadership were praised in 2021, the report found the relationship with the Parent Carer Forum, which provides a voice for parents and carers of disabled children, and the council had “fractured” with delays to issuing education, health and care plans (EHCPs)  and “no effective joint commissioning of services in the area.”

The May 2024 notice said a specialist advisor had been appointed by the government who will work with the council until services improve with a board overseeing progress. The council was first informed of the notice in April.

Wirral Council has been told it should have improved services by October 2025 or sooner but the notice will not be withdrawn “until sufficient progress has been evidenced.” If the council does not comply with the government’s notice, this could lead to government intervention to direct the council on how to improve services.

In recent months, the local authority has had to pay thousands of pounds out to families it had failed when it came to providing support for children with SEND in school. £31,640 has been handed to four different families after investigations by the Local Government Ombudsman.

As recently as early April, the local authority said it was making “steady” progress with performance “climbing towards the national average.” However it acknowledged this was “not as quick as we would have wanted.”

Following the notice being issued, the Parent Carer Forum said it would continue to work with the council and partners, adding: “We’re pleased to hear that this has been taken seriously.”

Wirral Council leader Cllr Paul Stuart said: “Our work to improve these areas has been slow and we need to do much, much more. While I am disappointed in the lack of progress, I welcome the notice and as a result officers have already set up an improvement board, which had their first meeting recently.”

Elizabeth Hartley, Wirral’s new director of children’s services, said: “These changes, while not insignificant, have not been enough and we’re still not in the place we need to be with our SEND offer for families.

“As a recently appointed director, I take this notice extremely seriously and, along with my colleagues across the partnership, am committed to turning things around as quickly as possible.

“I meet regularly with the parent carer forum and have sat with many families who feel let down by our existing system. Those parents and families have helped me to have a good understanding of what needs to change in Wirral.”