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Furious parents of SEND children who feel they have been ‘failed by Suffolk’ protest outside Endeavour House in Ipswich

Parents of children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) who feel they have been ‘failed by Suffolk’ braved the freezing cold to protest this morning.

Dozens of furious parents gathered outside Suffolk County Council’s headquarters at Endeavour House in Ipswich today in a bid to get their voices heard.

The protest, organised by Failed By Suffolk, called on Ofsted to hold the authority to account and ensure issues with SEND provision and support for families are fixed.

Parents of SEND children gathered outside Endeavour House today. Picture: Ash Jones
Parents of SEND children gathered outside Endeavour House today. Picture: Ash Jones

It comes as Suffolk County Council is under inspection by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission. A 2016 inspection found ‘significant weaknesses,’ which had not made sufficient progress to improve by 2019.

Toni Wasag, one of the organisers, said the system was destroying SEND children’s chance of an education, that it was only getting worse and called on things to improve.

Toni, who went through difficulties with four of her children, now helps ensure other parents secure the provision they need.

Toni Wasag outside Endeavour House. Picture: Ash Jones
Toni Wasag outside Endeavour House. Picture: Ash Jones

She said: “There are not enough school places, there is not enough early years care. Often we find parents have to send their children to a school outside the county or risk them spending years out of education.

“SEND provision has always been a problem in Suffolk but appears to have gotten worse since the introduction of education, health and care plans (EHCP’s) came into effect. And some kids can wait up to two years for a diagnosis of conditions such as ADHD or autism spectrum disorder.

“There needs to be accountability. Some of the more difficult children, they ignore entirely. EHCPs are not being filed or are not being enforced, which is a legal requirement. The council should be made to follow the law.”

This is the third protest that Failed by Suffolk, which was formed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, has organised.

Nicola and Mark Graham. Picture: Ash Jones
Nicola and Mark Graham. Picture: Ash Jones

The group previously gathered outside Endeavour House in March.

Recent data suggests Suffolk is the worst county per capita for upheld education complaints.

In August, SCC apologised to families and children where it has not been able to provide a better service and accepted the number of complaints within its education and children's services was too high.

The authority has said it is undergoing widescale reform of SEND services, with 32 activities suggested by the Lincolnshire Review having all been completed.

Nicola and Mark Graham, of Bury St Edmunds, are fighting for justice for their two children.

Their son, who has autism, required provision during the holidays but has been ‘passed from pillar to post’.

Their daughter, who has yet to receive a diagnosis, is unable to attend school and required help all year round.

The couple said they have had no correspondence from Suffolk County Council – with an EHCP for their daughter allegedly having not been completed within the legal time frame – and that recommended provision for their daughter was described by a childminder as unsuitable.

Nicola said: “People are paying tax to go towards education support but my daughter cannot attend nursery.

“All we’re asking for are reasonable adjustments to care. We’ve told the council we don’t need 30 hours – we’d be happy with five. We’ve been chasing them around in circles.”

Jenny Woodard, of Ipswich, attended the rally for her son, Ronnie.

Jenny Woodard with her family outside Endeavour House. Picture: Ash Jones
Jenny Woodard with her family outside Endeavour House. Picture: Ash Jones

Ronnie has autism, and they knew he may need extra help from an early age.

However, he struggled with school and was expelled as a safeguarding risk, she said – with Jenny having to give up her job as a mental health nurse for a time to support him.

Jenny said the council was downplaying his needs when filling out an EHCP and had to go to court twice to get him a specialist placement.

Cllr Samantha Murray expressed her support for the protest. Picture: IBC
Cllr Samantha Murray expressed her support for the protest. Picture: IBC

Jenny said: “The council told us he’d be a financial burden and he’d be fine in a mainstream school, but he’d be isolated and on a reduced timetable.

“We were told autism wasn’t recognised as a disability. Ronnie was booted off school transport.

“I had to give up my job for a time, and I was worried I would lose my home and not be able to provide for Ronnie financially.

“They are wasting money going to tribunals and putting children into regular schools. All we want is the chance for our children to have a proper education but they are being forced into provisions that doesn’t properly support them. Those that don’t shout are ignored. It’s soul-destroying.”

Another woman, Hailey, was worried she may have to end up going before a council tribunal.

Her daughter, who has autism, sensory processing difficulties and dyslexia, hasn’t entered Year 7 due to her needs not being met.

She felt Suffolk County Council wasn’t holding schools to account, and that her daughter’s support plan was two years out of date.

Ellen Kirkby, also from Bury St Edmunds, said her son was facing issues in sixth form after attending secondary school at SET Ixworth, which she described as ‘fantastic’ and helped him settle in.

She said, once he entered Year 9, an EHCP was agreed but not written, and changes were not made until the end of year 10.

She said the EHCP that came through in March contained the wrong name, typos, and ‘didn’t make sense’.

He is not receiving support in Year 12 due to his plans not being up-to-date.

She said that her son is ‘shutting down’ after school due to the stress and is concerned he may not be able to reach his full potential.

Ellen said: “We’d like Ofsted to actively engage with parents directly and for a realistic plan to tackle SEND issues to be in place.

“Suffolk County Council has failed two SEND inspections. We want them to stop inspecting and make real change.”

Ipswich Borough Councillor Samantha Murray offered her support to the protesters.

She told SuffolkNews she had ‘nine years of frustration’ to get her 11-year-old son educational support.

Cllr Murray said: “My son’s needs are not as severe as other children – so if I’d had such difficulty, how awful would the experiences of others have been?

“I only know the processes now that I’m a councillor, but I had to jump through hoops before.

“I want these parents to know they are being heard because I know how lonely it can be. I don’t believe the council’s narrative that they are angry repeat complainers, they are good parents trying to do the best for their children, who are already on an uneven playing field, and their issues are only being made worse.

“No parent would stand out here in the freezing cold for nothing.”

Suffolk County Council said it would not comment while the inspection is ongoing.