Family hit out after council apologises for letting SEND children down

Endeavour House, in Russell Road, Ipswich

Suffolk County Council has aplogised to families following a damning report into the failings in special education needs and disabilities services (SEND) in Suffolk. - Credit: Jason Noble LDRS

A Carlton Colville family have hit out at Suffolk County Council after a damning report laid out failings in special education needs and disabilities services in the county.

An independent review by Lincolnshire County Council inspected Suffolk County Council's struggling service following a swathe of parent comments over problems in the system.

The report, published this week following 29 virtual meetings with families, children and industry staff, concluded that weaknesses existed in a host of areas and made nine recommendations for future improvement.

In an open letter penned to parents, Suffolk County Council wrote: “The review has found that we must change what we are doing in a number of areas.

“We accept without reservation the findings of the review and are grateful to the Lincolnshire team for their attention to detail, professionalism and advice.

“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.”

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Measures in the action plan, which will begin this week, include better co-production on developing education health and care plans (EHCPS) – documents with specific measures for SEND youngsters required in their education.

It also includes work to identify gaps in knowledge and skills in the team, collate a review of policies in line with the code of practice, address gaps in sharing of information with health service colleagues and robust annual review processes – particularly as youngsters transition from one phase of education to another.

However, one Carlton Colville family, who wished to remain anonymous, hit out at the problems they have experienced for more than a decade.

They say their 15-year-old son was permanently excluded from his school in the town at the end of the last school year following a "culmination of two or three years' worth of issues with the school," and now has no provision at the start of what should be his final GCSE year.

They said: "This review confirmed to us what we already felt, that our son has been let down massively by the incompetence of the Suffolk County Council, a story which has so far lasted 12 years and counting.

"As it stands our son has an EHCP plan but as of now has no education in the year of his GCSE's.

"We feel the EHCP has not helped our son's plight in any way and barely seems worth the paper its written on.

"The EHCP plan itself took us two attempts to get approved despite a huge amount of factual evidence.

"Our son was on the 'urgent' waiting list for both Autism & ADHD assessments - a wait which lasted over two years and is still ongoing, and we were also told two years ago an ADHD nurse would visit our son at school.

"This never happened and now it can't happen as he is no longer in a school setting.

"There was never an identified caseworker acting as a single point of contact following the award of our sons EHCP plan, instead we dealt with more individuals than we care to remember, most of whom seemed to disappear throughout with whole process.

"After a number of unhappy years at his high school in Lowestoft during which time he was verbally abused by members of staff on several occasions, he was eventually permanently excluded.

"We felt this was as a result of unmet needs but the decision was not reversed, as expected."

The family added any apology from the council over the report's findings comes "too little and too late."

They said: "The bottom line is our son has not had the help and support he deserves and needs. The system has let us down.

"We sincerely hope action is taken for the sake of children and families in a similar situation as every child deserves an education.

"We certainly wouldn't want other families to experience half of what we have over the years, the strain it puts on families is massive."

Conservative cabinet member for education, Rachel Hood, said: “As we anticipated, the report has shown that SEND services in Suffolk are not good enough, and I want to apologise to those children and young people we have let down.

“I want to be clear that this report does not cover all SEND services and many children or young people who have specialist educational needs in Suffolk are very well served, but significant changes must be made following this hard-hitting report.

“We must learn from this report and implement fundamental change as quickly as we can.”

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

More details on the action plan are expected to be published ahead of the December education scrutiny committee meeting.