Damning independent report lays bare Suffolk County Council's education failings
“We are sorry for the difficulties that some families have experienced as a result of how we have been doing things.
“We recognise that we have let down some children and young people as certain aspects of our services have simply not been good enough.”
Those were the stark words issued by Suffolk County Council last night after a damning independent report laid bare the failings in the authority’s special educational needs and disabilities (SEND service).
Lincolnshire County Council had been tasked this summer with carrying out an independent assessment of Suffolk’s SEND service after rising numbers of parents voiced their concerns.
The final report, published yesterday, highlighted a host of improvements needed, with Suffolk County Council’s education leaders vowing to make improvements. An open letter was penned to families apologising for the distress.
Cllr Rachel Hood, Conservative cabinet member for education, said: “We are determined to make the experiences of all our children, young people and families as good as it can be when they are faced with these challenges – that’s a commitment of the leader of Suffolk County Council.”
She continued: “As soon as this matter was raised at the time I became a member of the cabinet at the end of May, we acted immediately to get to the bottom of where we were with our SEND service, and I feel that the report has given us great clarity.
“I am very clear that as the cabinet member for special educational needs I want to make a fulsome apology to any parents and children that we have let down, because we take our parents and children in Suffolk and their education extremely seriously.
“It is an absolute priority to accept the recommendations in this report. We have already started implementing them, and we are determined to give our children and their parents as good an education and ability to go forwards with their lives as we can.
“I am a parent, I understand the distress that some of these matters have caused.”
Cllr Hood vowed that parents would “absolutely” see on the ground changes to improve their experiences.
While the review highlighted some strengths in the service, such as improvements in the time it took to process education health and care plans (EHCPs) – plans detailing individual requirements for youngsters’ education – and increased understanding of social, emotional and mental health needs, it said a host of areas were not performing well enough.
Key issues from the report include:
- A necessity for families to be involved in the EHCP assessments
- Timeliness in responding to calls and emails
- Lack of specific measures in some EHCPs
- The specialist education panel being “overwhelmed” with requests for specialist provision
- Pupils inappropriately placed in specialist places not suited to their needs
- Lack of identified caseworkers for children once they have an EHCP
- Requests for statutory assessments are not recorded
- High numbers of mediations over refusal for assessments
- Lack of routine tracking on annual reviews of EHCPs
- Lack of consistency in how parents are contacted
- Lack of transparency about process and decision-making
- Only pupils with EHCPs are eligible for specialist places, but the number of youngsters with EHCPs has nearly doubled since 2014.
Education staff believe the earlier testing of pupils coupled with more knowledge of those needs or conditions is behind the increase.
The report has made nine recommendations which will form the basis of an action plan for the authority, with education chiefs explaining that work had already begun.
Ros Somerville, the new assistant director for inclusion has now begun in post, while consultancy firm Impower has been hired as a 'strategic partner' to review case management and processes with EHCPs.
That organisation has already worked with 15 other local authorities with similar problems, with the tie-up beginning yesterday.
It is not yet clear how much that partnership will cost.
Other measures in the action plan include an analysis of training needed for the service, review of processes against the code of practice issued by the Department for Education and bolstered protocols with clinical commissioning groups over sharing necessary health data.
The authority said that additional resources may be required, which would need to be signed-off by the authority’s cabinet.
That is above and beyond the £45million already pledged for creating 870 new SEND places.
Parent campaigners had called for the review to include a legal audit, but the council has again ruled out any lawyer-led approach as it said Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission already carried out those.
More details on the action plan are expected to be published ahead of the December education scrutiny committee meeting.