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Parents vow to expose problems of Suffolk's special educational needs and disabilities system after council says sorry for failures

Parent campaigners in Suffolk have vowed to publish a report of their own exposing problems in the county council’s special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) system, after the publication of an independent review.

Suffolk County Council issued an apology on Monday afternoon to SEND families let down by failings in the service, exposed in a review carried out by Lincolnshire County Council.

The Campaign for Change (Suffolk SEND) group – a collection of 470 parents and carers of youngsters which has been instrumental in fighting for SEND improvements – re-iterated its calls for a legal audit of services to ensure they met statutory duties.

Suffolk County Council's headquarters in Ipswich.
Suffolk County Council's headquarters in Ipswich.

“We are united in one thing and that is to demand that Suffolk County Council fully complies with its statutory duties to deliver appropriate education to children and young people with SEND,” a group spokesman said.

“For years we have seen a deliberate policy of ignoring these statutory duties with no accountability. This has left needs unassessed, it has left children without critical provision including in many cases with no schooling at all. Children’s mental and physical health and education has suffered catastrophically. Families and parents have been broken by the endless battles to gain an education.

“It is clear that the report does however highlight a number of failures to comply with statutory duties. This supports our ongoing call for an independent legal audit to uncover the extent of and accountability for this continued law breaking.

Cllr Rachel Hood, who is responsible for the county's SEND services.
Cllr Rachel Hood, who is responsible for the county's SEND services.

“In the coming weeks we will also be releasing our own report which will begin to expose the true scale of Suffolk County Council’s failures, which are somewhat lost in the jargon of this council report.”

Cllr Andrew Stringer, leader of the county council’s opposition Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group, said: “We welcome the report published today – it makes for a hugely sobering read. Families have been let down because we have some good people but a poor system, a system that has led to some families waiting for years to get into the right placement.

“The Conservatives should have made sure the right resources were in the right place to avoid our families being served by a system where assessments were not carried out in time, resulting in clear breaches of compliance.

Cllr Andrew Stringer welcomed the publication of the report today.
Cllr Andrew Stringer welcomed the publication of the report today.

“We accept the system was overwhelmed, but why those workers feel they couldn’t report this to their management is of huge concern.

“Our group are glad that there has been an apology to those we have let down, and a promise to work with others to avoid these same mistakes in the future.”

Both the Campaign for Change group and Cllr Stringer questioned why the media were informed before councillors and families, while Cllr Stringer also questioned why a special meeting of the education scrutiny committee has not been formed to discuss the findings.

Jack Abbott, former education spokesman with Suffolk County Council’s Labour group and now an education campaigner, said he hoped it would be a 'watershed moment' for driving real change.

“This is a damning report, but its findings will come as little surprise to the families who have been desperately seeking change for years,” he said.

“It is they who have had to endure long, exhausting battles just to get the support they need.

“Let’s not forget either that Suffolk County Council limited the scope of this report – the criticisms highlighted here only reflect part of the systemic problems that exist.

"Yes, communication with families is important, but the quality and accessibility of provision is critical. If Suffolk County Council really wants to drive improvements, then they will finally listen to families and conduct a full investigation.”

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