CHILDREN with special educational needs are facing “inequality, inconsistency and unacceptably long waiting times” to get access to services.

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission carried out a joint inspection of special educational needs and disability services in Essex.

It found the pace of change at Essex County Council and five clinical commissioning groups had not been quick enough since national reforms were introduced in 2014.

The report found there are “significant areas of weakness” in identifying the needs of children.

Essex has a higher than average number of children assessed with moderate learning difficulties and the report found the authorities did not understand the reasons for this.

It found in some areas in the county the wait for an assessment for autism was 18 to 24 months.

The report said there was a divide in whether children got access to services such as physiotherapy and speech therapy. The council and clinical commissioning groups must set out what action it will take to make the improvements required.

County Hall’s education boss Ray Gooding said: “Prior to the inspection we had already begun an improvement and development journey as our own self-assessment had identified significant areas that require improvement.

“We see the report as a constructive part of this journey and take seriously the need to address, and improve on, the specific areas for improvement identified within the report.”

Keirran Pearce, a teacher at Elmstead Market’s Market Field School, which cares for children from across north Essex with special educational needs, said: “I think anyone at Essex County Council would be lying if they said they had things perfect.

“Collaboration between the different services needs to be worked on and pupil voices need to be heard.

“Any service which is for young people needs to speak to young people.”

The Multi Schools Council, set up by Mr Pearce in 2012 to bring mainstream and special needs children together, was praised in the report.

Mr Pearce added: “It is important all schools are inclusive, we don’t need to fix on labels.

“We need to get schools more open and more willing to be flexible to meet different needs.”