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North Yorkshire Better Commissioning Seminar

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As highlighted by MP Tim Loughton the current economic climate means that effective commissioning is now more important than ever.  In October 2010 The North Yorkshire Communication and Interaction (C&I) Network held a seminar to discuss how to improve the often complex task of commissioning educational provision for children and young people with an autism spectrum condition (ASC).  The seminar, led by Penny Richardson – AET consultant, brought together key professionals working in autism education in North Yorkshire to consider how to improve service efficiency and value for money.  Particular focus was given to the importance of using and analysing measurable data as a means to set targets and monitor improvement.

Participants described the seminar as “excellent”, “relevant” and “thought provoking”.  One went on to say: “few study sessions are ever as challenging and certainly not as well researched and tailored to our needs.  Penny moved us out of our comfort zone and presented us with new ways of thinking.”

This Case Study provides information on the areas covered by the seminar as well as downloadable resources to help you improve commissioning in your area.

The North Yorkshire seminar was part of a wider project supported by the AET to examine ways of improving the commissioning of educational provision for children on the autistic spectrum throughout England.  The commissioning project came about as a result of the 2008 AET research report ‘Educational provision for children and young people on the autism spectrum living in England’. The report’s findings highlighted the need for local authorities to make better use of available data when monitoring provision.   The North Yorkshire seminar therefore aimed to equip participants with the skills needed to analyse data to enhance performance management and service improvement.

The content of the seminar was developed from a previous Invitation Seminar held in Nottingham in July 2010.

The October seminar was tailored to the context and challenges of North Yorkshire, and was attended by a variety of professionals from the Communication & Interaction Network, including a head teacher, a speech and language and communication needs consultant, specialist teachers and teaching assistants.

The seminar aimed to:

• Consider the links between the provision of education and specialist support for children and young people with ASC

• Consider a range of measurable data (national and local) and discuss its potential or relevance to ongoing development of services for children and young people with ASC

• Develop a portfolio of performance indicators and targets to drive the way professionals work together

• Identify potential barriers to moving forward and discuss approaches to reduce or remove these

• Consider the application of the Commissioning Cycle to participant’s work.

Seminar programme

9.00 – 9.30am     Arrival and Refreshments
9.30  – 9.45am    Introductions - Jenny Morgan
9.45 – 10.45am   “Autism Education, Commissioning and all that … “ 
                          - Penny Richardson
10.45 – 11.05am Questions / Key Points
11.05 – 11.20am Coffee Break
11.20 – 12.50pm Group workshop activities – What outcomes?  What inputs?
                          Getting there …..
12.55 – 1.45pm   Lunch
1.45 – 3.00pm     Scenario testing and discussion
3.00 – 3.15pm     Tea
3.15 – 4.15pm     Performance Indicators to drive Improvement
                          Measuring success and impact.
                          How to make it relevant.
4.15pm               Next Steps
4.25pm               Evaluation sheets and Close

Download the presentation used during the day.

For further information on the commissioning project as a whole please click here.

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The North Yorkshire Communication and Interaction (C&I) Network is one of four local authority networks, which were set up in September 2008.  An excellent example of joined up working, each network includes specialist staff, as well as a range of school and site based provisions.

The C& I Network includes:
• A Network Coordinator, a Lead for Autism and a Consultant for Speech, Language and Communication Needs
• 11 Special Schools
• Ten Enhanced Mainstream Schools which have been set up over the last academic year 2009-10.   Five of these are primary schools for Communication and Interaction and five are secondary schools for young people with High Functioning Autism.  These schools provide outreach support to their local community of schools and have up to six places available for pupils with significant needs to attend on an in-reach placement
• The Autism Spectrum Condition Outreach Support Service (ASCOSS).  This consists of a centrally funded service (3.5 Teachers and 7 ATAs) plus a commissioned outreach service from three of the county’s special schools
• North Yorkshire Communication Aids Partnership (NYCAP) – commissioned from four special schools
• Additional support from Educational Psychologists (EPs); one Specialist Senior and two Specialist Practitioner EPs


After attending the July seminar the C&I Network were keen to take further steps towards planning measurable improvement to provision in their area. 

“North Yorkshire was a particularly interesting area to look at,’ said Penny. “The number of children and young people with a diagnosis of ASD in this area is steadily increasing.  Incidence and rate of diagnosis varies in different parts of the County, however, and reasons for this aren’t immediately obvious.”

Context of North Yorkshire:
• England’s largest county
• Sparsely populated: 20% of the population live in the two major urban areas – Harrogate and Scarborough
• Approximately 137,000 0-19 year olds with 84,270 school aged children (Jan 2008)
• The % of the school age population who attend special school is 0.81% compared with 1.13% nationally
• 1.84% of all pupils have statements of SEN, compared to 2.7% nationally

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The seminar began by focusing on the Commissioning Cycle.  Commissioning means ensuring that the service provided is high quality, fit for purpose and, crucially, is good value for money.

“Getting the commissioning of educational provision right is crucial but it is not a straightforward process,” said Penny.  “There is no single commissioner and no ‘one size fits all’ answer.  This means, that in order to provide children with the best possible support, professionals need to understand and use each stage of the commissioning cycle.”

Penny explained that commissioning is a cyclical process which involves identifying a need, providing for that need, monitoring provision, evaluating impact and then revising accordingly.  Implementing this cycle fully is fundamental to the complex task of providing effective educational provision for those on the autism spectrum.

One participant commented “The day linked in well to the current monitoring cycle for our provision.  It gave me new ideas to discuss with my line manager, especially about new areas to monitor and evaluate.”

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‘Councils simply do not currently bring together the information to help them decide which type of provision offer the best value for money’ 2007 Audit Commission (Out of authority placements for special educational needs)

The key to the success of the Commissioning Cycle discussed in the previous section is the systematic use of a sound evidence base of data. 

Seminar participants were therefore asked to consider a selection of data samples (insert link to excel worksheet samples).  These ranged from data on where children with statements go to school to absence by type of SEN, demonstrating the variety of information available. 

The data samples, all available from government web-sites, included:
  •  % of the pupil population by type of SEN, type of school attended
  •  Where children with statements go to school
  •  The numbers and % of children at school action, school action plus and with statements
  •  Numbers and % of children with an ASD by type of school, statement, school action and school action plus
  •  Absence by type of SEN
  •  KS2 English by type of SEN
  •  Fixed term exclusions by type of SEN
  •  Permanent exclusion by type of SEN
  •  Exclusions by SEN status North Yorks and England

Wherever possible the data sets included performance statistics from comparator groups: regional (Yorkshire and Humberside), statistical neighbour Local Authorities and the national position. 

Comparing data is key to making a judgement on value for money, explains Penny: “There is much to be learned by questioning why some local authorities are able to spend less than their statistical neighbours and yet achieve better outcomes.” 

Analysis of the data provided at the seminar threw up some interesting findings.  For example according to data North Yorkshire has fewer children with communication and interaction needs than the national figures, however it reports more children with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties as their main need than nationally.  Also when looking at ASD levels at primary school there is no difference between North Yorkshire and national figures but when it comes to secondary school North Yorkshire figures are higher than the national ones.

“It’s really important to spend time working out what the data is telling us and how we can use it to set indicators and targets for improvement," said Penny.  

Example of using data effectively:

One large local authority noted that there was a much higher rate of diagnosis in one of its locality areas, and within this area there was a significantly higher level of requests for statutory assessments and statements, and for places in special schools. The issues emerged as strategic rather than relating to need. The analysis of strategic and pupil level outcomes / outputs led the local ASD team to look very carefully at how its time and the nature of support was provided.

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North Yorkshire Local Authority had prepared a very comprehensive and detailed analysis of factors relating to children with an ASD and children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN). The analysis included North Yorkshire specific data, for example:
  •  Age of pupil (ASD / SLCN) at referral for statutory (section 323) assessment (compared to all referrals)
  •  Numbers of new statements for ASD and SLCN
  •  Numbers of children with an ASD / SLCN by SEN status (statement, school action plus, school action)
  •  School placement by type (mainstream, enhanced resource, special) for ASD and SLCN

This data was then analysed by the six key geographical areas in North Yorkshire. Specialist teams and school based provision is organised by these areas, and it was possible to see patterns in the above data sets according to each area. This information was directly relevant to how support was provided and how decisions were made – whether relating to diagnosis, balance between ASD and SLCN, or referrals for statements.

 This local data was then considered in the context of other data that would help the interpretation and application of the initial North Yorkshire analysis, looking at:
  •  comparative absence rates by type of SEN,
  •  the destination of young people post school and those Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)
  •  pupils in Key Stage 2 who achieve Level 4 and above by type of SEN
  •  pupils who have had a fixed term exclusion.

Not all of this data was immediately accessible to the C&I Network, but it was available within the Local Authority and was considered to be critical to shaping, improving and monitoring the effectiveness of the service / provision.

Those attending the seminar also identified a few gaps in data collection, for example the number of young people in the LA Pupil Referral Service who present as having autism.

For information on local Authority statistical neighbours visit

A short guide on the range of web based data available can be found here.

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In order to put the methods discussed during the seminar to the test the group were presented with the following scenario to consider:

“The Directorate has decided that, in order to create a ‘level playing field’ for all schools and all children, that the non-statutory work of SEN and advisory and support services, including places in PRUs for non-excluded pupils, will be delegated to schools”.

Participants were asked to consider:
  •  how they would analyse the functions of services for children with an ASC and for schools
  •  the risks at strategic, school and pupil level of delegating funding
  •  the information they would need to prepare their proposals
  •  what outcome indicators they might use

The ensuing discussions were challenging, with a number of those taking part highlighting a dilemma between what special services believed was required and what schools thought they needed.

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“too often ….. the annual review of statements focused on what had been provided rather than its impact.”

The above extract taken from Ofsted’s 2010 ‘The Special Educational Needs and Disability Review’ highlights the need to look beyond what provision is available to question whether it is actually working.  

Those attending the seminar were asked to consider performance indicators to drive improvement in services for children and young people with autism at strategic level, whole service level and pupil level. 

“One of the reasons why commissioning education for those on the autism spectrum is so complex is that using typical outcomes such as attainment to judge how well a service is performing is just too simplistic. We need to be developing tailor-made indicators which are relevant to that particular provision.” explained Penny.

Giving an example of such an indicator she said:  “A suitable indicator for a specialist advisory teacher might be an expected target of 95 per cent of the children they had supported making a successful transition to secondary school.”  This would focus staff time on a particular year group (Year 6) thus influencing priorities and the impact would be measurable and relevant to a potential position of over-demand for special schools.

This area of work, ie developing tailor made performance indicators and targets, has developed into a post seminar task and has become a key feature of future service improvement planning and monitoring for the North Yorkshire C&I team.

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for more info picture

If you would like to talk to the consultant who facilitated this seminar and the rest of the commissioning project on behalf of the AET then please contact Penny Richardson at

Penny was asked by the AET to take on the role of Autism Expert to the Commissioning Support Programme ( The Commissioning Support Programme works with Local Authorities to help improve life chances for children and young people in local communities in England.
Penny was part of the research team, led by Dr Glenys Jones from the University of Birmingham, that produced, in 2008, the comprehensive and relevant report “Educational provision for children and young people on the autism spectrum living in England: a review of current practice, issues and challenges.”

A qualified and experienced teacher and advisory teacher, Penny has led SEN specialist support services, and worked in 3 Local Authorities as an Assistant Director. Having worked in Nottinghamshire in a range of roles for 15 years, Penny now undertakes specialist consultancy and Interim Management for Local Authorities, as well as working with voluntary organisations and charities, and schools. Penny is also the auntie of a much loved 15 year old with an ASD, who attends both a special and mainstream school.

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