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'All options open' to address failing special educational needs provision in Suffolk, says education chiefs

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Endeavour House, Ipswich (8105522)
Endeavour House, Ipswich (8105522)

Senior officers across Suffolk’s ailing special educational needs service are to be held to account for its failings, it has emerged, with education chiefs warning that “all options will be considered” for its future.

Suffolk’s special educational needs and disability (SEND) service was the first in the country to fail its reinspection by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission this month, following a poor visit by the watchdogs in January 2016.

Inspectors deemed the service – run by Suffolk County Council and the clinical commissioning groups – had failed to improve substantially in three out of the four areas, meaning central government must now intervene.

But during Thursday’s full council meeting, Conservative cabinet member for education Gordon Jones said a board had been set up to help the service move forward.

“There is a plan that officers are working on. That includes quality assurance, a system-wide training programme for all frontline staff, further assurances on the local offer website and continuing to press on with more SEND places,” he said.

“The SEND oversight board will meet for the first time in April, when we will hold senior officers from across service areas to account.”

Mr Jones said the board would be made up of councillors from both sides of the chamber, as well as CCG staff and user organisations.

Its first meeting will “undertake a second review following the Ofsted and CQC inspection,” and could be carried out as a peer review-style assessment, with colleagues from other authorities.

Both the Labour and Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent groups had called for an independent review to be carried out into SEND services, with Mr Jones stating that “all options will be considered”.

Penny Otton, education spokesman for the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said that, by next year, change will have needed to happen.

Top-level talks between senior leaders and the Department for Education and NHS England are set to take place soon, although a date for those have not yet emerged.

It was revealed at the start of last week that the Suffolk Parent Carer Network, which represents the voice of families using SEND services, had been denied a seat at the table, despite requests by both the county council and CCG.