Neath praised for its special needs system
In most areas of SEN and social inclusion, the local education authority performs at, or above, the average for local authorities across Wales, according to a report by Welsh inspection agency Estyn.
Not only has it has seen a significant reduction in the number of statements for children with special needs, secondary school attendance figures have also improved - and to such an extent that the authority is now the best-ranked in Wales, having previously been in 14th place.
The authority's director of education has been praised for providing strong leadership, and encouraging major changes in the way SEN and inclusion services are carried out.
Schools have been given comprehensive guidance to take greater responsibility for provision of SEN support, and rely less heavily on the official service. The authority has also delegated the budget for learning support assistants so that schools can target support at those in most need.
"The authority has successfully achieved fundamental changes in helping schools to address pupils' special needs," said Estyn.
"This means that the authority is no longer the sole or main provider of support for pupils with SEN, so it can concentrate on monitoring the effectiveness of support that the schools themselves provide."
Traveller children, as well as those from ethnic-minority backgrounds, are all well supported by the authority and its schools, according to inspectors. Provision for looked-after children is also good, with an effective system in place for tracking their long-term educational attainment.
The LEA's performance was rated good, and its prospects for improvement as promising. Areas in need of attention, however, include the arrangements for moving pupils in and out of the referral unit, and the need to address an upward trend in the number of fixed term exclusions.
Education director Karl Napieralla said: "It is pleasing that an external inspection has confirmed not only the quality of the service we provide, but also commented favourably on the authority's clear vision and sense of direction in supporting vulnerable pupils.
"That means we are already preparing and working with other partners to meet the requirements of the Children Act."
Following the inspection, the council said it is now working on improving arrangements for moving pupils in and out of its pupil referral unit. A new school for up to 14 pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties will also be opening in September, providing long-term placements.