Suffolk County Council apologise over SEND provision following Ofsted report
Leaders say they are ‘very sorry’ following a damning SEND inspection report.
The Ofsted and Care Quality Commission (CQC) report was released earlier this morning and outlined widespread systemic failings in Suffolk’s provision of services to children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
The report follows an inspection conducted in November which found children with SEND needed urgent help.
Council leader, Matthew Hicks, apologised to children and families for the current lack of SEND provision.
He said: “We know we’re not doing well enough yet, there’s a lot more to do, and we are very sorry to the children and families that haven’t had the service they deserve.
“We are aware the service is not in the position we want it to be in.”
Despite Cllr Hick’s guarantee that the council is aware of current problems, the inspection report maintains that annual reviews were not always conducted and, when they were, the problems were not addressed properly.
Also outlined in the report is the fact assessments for children’s education, health and care (EHC) plans were too lengthy, leading them to perform poorly in school or, in some cases, find themselves without education altogether.
Cllr Rachel Hood, cabinet member for education, SEND and skills, revealed although, at the time of the inspection, none of the council’s EHC plans had been delivered on time, it had now issued 17 per cent of them.
She added: “We’re not hiding from these issues but we are clear that this is quite a long road to improve things.
“There has been absolute commitment to focus on our SEND situation despite the fact demand has gone up exponentially, we are poorly funded, and the SEND system is broken, but we are not making any excuses.”
Currently, the council is ranked 111 out of 151 local authorities for high-needs funding with the first place, Camden, getting roughly £1,500 more per pupil.
On top of this, the council revealed the SEND population in the county had increased by 30 per cent since 2019, with a 32 per cent increase in the number of EHC requests in the last year alone.
Cllr Hood also said the council was committed to its promise to deliver around 1,300 school places for children with SEND, many of which have already been delivered, for them to stay locally.
It is unclear, however, whether this investment will be enough to make sure Suffolk children have their place in schools.
Cllr Hood continued: “I don’t know if it’s enough, time will tell, but our investment hasn’t stopped. We are absolutely committed to providing every child in Suffolk with a good experience.”
Although the report says the current local school provision is of high quality, it points out that most disabled children and young people are still being placed out of the county.
Adam Robertson, a Lib Dem and Lowestoft’s parliamentary spokesperson, was not convinced with the leaders’ apology and called for Cllr Hood to step down.
He said: “When Oxfordshire County Council had a failing Ofsted report in September, we saw Liz Leffman, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, take decisive action by sacking the Portfolio Holder who was in charge. Yet Matthew Hicks seems to reward failure by keeping Rachel Hood in post. Is Cllr Hicks negligent to see what is happening within SEND in Suffolk?”
Jack Abbott, Labour’s candidate for Ipswich, added: “How many more will we have to read before the lived experiences of families start to improve?
“This systemic failure has continued for a decade, and yet we are supposed to believe that this time things will be different, that this time the Conservatives really mean it when they say that SEND is now a priority?
“I, and the families who have been left exhausted and broken by Suffolk County Council’s negligence, have completely lost faith that they will ever turn this around.
“After ignoring this crisis for so long, the Government must now intervene to provide the resources and expertise Suffolk County Council so clearly needs."
The report also put into question the council’s leadership and partnership with local integrated care boards, stating that governance was not robust enough.
The council is now expecting a new monitoring inspection within the next 18 months, and another full inspection in the next three years.