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Campaigners demand Suffolk County Council leader promises no SEND child is left without an appropriate school place or placement




Campaigners fighting for improvements to Suffolk’s beleaguered special education system have demanded the council leader vows that no child is without an appropriate school place or placement.

In an open letter to Suffolk’s county councillors today, the Campaign for Change (Suffolk SEND) has said the council’s apology for its Special Educational Needs and Disability provision failings ‘was worth nothing without acceptance, accountability and action’.

“There must be full acceptance of the scale of the problem; there must be accountability for those failings and there must be action to fully resolve all the issues and mitigate the harm caused,” the group has told councillors.

Campaigners fighting for improvements to Suffolk’s SEND system have demanded the council vows no child is without an appropriate placement.
Campaigners fighting for improvements to Suffolk’s SEND system have demanded the council vows no child is without an appropriate placement.

Earlier this week Suffolk County Council said sorry after a raft of issues were flagged in an independent review, which laid bare the failings in the authority’s SEND services.

But in the open letter, delivered on behalf of 500 parents and carers, the group said the report published on Monday ‘fell far short of what it felt was acceptable’.

“Having now reviewed their report it is clear that it has been obviously watered down,” it said.

Cllr Matthew Hicks, the leader of the Conservative controlled Suffolk County Council.
Cllr Matthew Hicks, the leader of the Conservative controlled Suffolk County Council.

A series of concerns were raised about the report, conducted by Lincolnshire County Council, and the Campaign for Change group said that ‘many serious issues identified in the body of the report but yet only the less serious issues make it into the woolly recommendations and hence into the proposed vague action plan, produced without consultation’.

It said that the ‘council clearly still fails to accept the scale and gravity of the problem’, and said the report highlighted ‘multiple breaches of statutory duties showing the council has been breaking the law on SEND for many years’.

The campaigning group has now demanded;

  • That Cllr Matthew Hicks, the Conservative leader of the county council, promises no child or young person will be without an appropriate full time school place or alternative placement in accordance with their Education, Heath and Care Plan by the end of October;
  • That there is a full independent legal audit of Suffolk’s SEND practises, processes, training and cases, including all areas beyond the scope of this limited review;
  • A compensation and education catch up scheme for those who have been affected and their human right to an education denied;
  • Effective and independent legal compliance audits for the future;
  • The education scrutiny committee should sit in emergency session monthly until issues with the service are resolved;
  • An independent review of NHS clinical commissioning groups’ SEND provision;
  • The county council commits to work with the most severely affected families removing what the campaign group described as ‘inhumane official communication blocks’;
  • The authority should publish or complete the deep dive review into SEND exclusions, which the group said was promised in 2019;
  • Specific financial audit of SEND provision, specifically to ensure that value for money is achieved and that services paid for have been delivered.

Cllr Matthew Hicks, the Conservative leader of the county council, repeated his apology for failings in the system and said the points would be considered and responded to, as well as meeting with representatives from the group in October.

“For now, we want to reiterate our commitment - not only to implement the recommendations of the Lincolnshire review but also improve SEND services for everyone, he said.

“We are sorry that we have failed some children and families and will put it right.”

But the county council has already ruled out the demand for a legal audit.

Cllr Rachel Hood, cabinet member for education, SEND and skills, said: ​​“We are not proposing to have a lawyer-led audit, and we won’t action a legal review.

“Ofsted inspects all of our services and provision, and Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission have already made two monitoring visits to Suffolk, and identified areas and progress where we need to improve.

“We already have education scrutiny, so we believe that our priority is to move forward, actioning the recommendations in the way we have been advised by the report.”

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