CHESHIRE East has made sufficient progress in addressing ‘significant weaknesses’ in areas of its provision for special needs children, government inspectors have said.

Inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) revisited the area in May to check on what progress had been made following a damning report after a SEND (special educational needs and disability) inspection in March 2018.

Two areas of significant weakness were identified in that 2018 inspection.

The first was the timeliness, process and quality of the education, health and care (EHC) plans and the second was the lack of an effective autism spectrum disorder (ASD) pathway and unreasonable waiting times

As a result Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) determined that a written statement of action was required because of ‘significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice’.

The local authority and the area’s clinical commissioning groups (CCG) were jointly responsible for submitting the statement to Ofsted and it was declared fit for purpose in September 2018.

The recent inspection, two months ago, found that ‘the [Cheshire East] area has made sufficient progress in addressing all of the significant weaknesses identified at the initial inspection’.

In a letter detailing the main findings from the inspection, HMI lead inspector Pippa Jackson Maitland said: “The significant improvements to EHC planning that have been made since the inspection, cannot be underestimated.

“Throughout the visit, inspectors heard from parents, children and young people and professionals about the positive impact that these plans have on children and young people’s lives.”

With regard to the second weakness the inspector said: “At the initial inspection, there was no 0-4 years ASD diagnostic pathway. This is no longer the case.

“Following a successful pilot in December 2018, the local area launched an effective diagnostic pathway for the youngest children.

“This means that more children are starting nursery and school with their needs being understood and met.”

The inspector said the inconsistencies in ASD diagnostic pathways for older children and young people had now been addressed and there was a more consistent approach.

With regard to lengthy waiting lists she said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a considerable impact on ASD diagnostic assessment waiting times.

“Despite the local area’s efforts to minimise the disruption to families, waiting lists have grown.

“However, these waiting times are nowhere near as long as they were in 2018. The local area has plans in place to resolve these issues.”