Dame Christine Lenehan has suggested officials “lost the bigger picture” in the delivery of SEND services in Hertfordshire by “problem-solving along the way”.

But she has told councillors she is confident that ongoing work to to improve SEND provision in the county is “on the right track”.

Dame Christine was appointed as the chair of the partnership's multi-agency improvement board, in the wake of an inspection that found “systemic failures” in the provision of SEND services in the county.

That inspection – by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission – highlighted issues that included delays in the EHCP process and a shortage of specialist education places.

It also highlighted delays in ASD and ADHD diagnosis and long wait times to access speech and language services.

Following the inspections, Dame Christine was brought-in to oversee a county-wide ‘priority action plan’, specifically designed to address the issues raised by inspectors.

On Tuesday (June 18) Dame Christine told a meeting of the county council’s education, libraries and lifelong learning  cabinet panel that the inspection results had been “traumatic” in Hertfordshire.

She said that many hard-working staff had struggled to understand why the judgement had been made.

But she said that after working in the county for a while the answer had become fairly clear – suggesting that “Hertfordshire is complex”.

She pointed to the county’s 524 schools, “a fairly complex map of health services”, huge increases in the number of children requiring support and “lessening” budgets.

She told councillors: “So what had happened in Hertfordshire, I think, was that it problem-solved along the way.

“We’ll fix this bit, we’ll fix that bit, we’ll fix this bit, we’ll fix that bit – with the best of intents. But in doing that it lost the bigger picture.”

Dame Christine told councillors it had been “shocking” to find that parents coming through the system were more often coming through complaints than anywhere else.

She claimed the map of SEND in the county was so complex that “actually people got lost in it", and that over the past six months there had been “a lot of untangling” in order to re-assemble that map in a way that answers the challenges.

At the meeting Dame Christine also pointed to the “world class” work that had been done in the county in speech an language and the new SEND Academy, designed to address workforce issues.

She highlighted the time it would take for parents and children to feel the difference from the ongoing detailed work at officer level, claiming that part of the challenge was now how to communicate the processes and the progress to date.

The county-wide priority action plan has been drawn-up by officials from Hertfordshire County Council and the Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care Board.

In her role as independent chair, Dame Christine has been brought in to oversee the delivery of the plan, under the SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Programme.

Council officers reported at the meeting that “significant progress” had been made on the delivery of commitments in the action plan.

But the report by officers also recognised that the experiences of children young people and families across the county would not improve immediately.

According to the officers’ report the DFE will make a “stocktake visit” the Hertfordshire SEND Partnership in September – with a “deep dive” into specific areas of the action plan in November.

Preliminary findings of an earlier monitoring visit in April, it was reported, suggest the SEND advisor commissioned by the DFE had been “encouraged by the progress made in delivery of the priority action plan”.