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Scathing inspection of Suffolk's special educational needs and disability service published today

The NHS and Whitehall will decide the next steps for Suffolk’s ailing special educational needs provision following a scathing inspection by health and education watchdogs.

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission carried out a joint visit to Suffolk County Council’s special educational needs and disability (SEND) service in January to inspect weaknesses identified in January 2017.

SEND chiefs had been hopeful the re-inspection would deliver a better report, but the results published today revealed that the team had 'not made sufficient progress' in three of the four areas identified.

Endeavour House, Ipswich (7538215)
Endeavour House, Ipswich (7538215)

The report said all partners did not co-ordinate effectively and the improvement strategy 'does not have sufficiently detailed information about outcomes to help members challenge and evaluate rigorously the impact of the local area’s work'.

It said completing statutory assessments on time was 'too slow for too many' and that the new education health and care plans (EHC plans) were 'inconsistent'.

The report revealed the county faced such a huge backlog it was required to triple the rate it completed them and had still not completed them by its March 2018 deadline.

Another priority was improving the ‘local offer’ information – the database of all education services available in Suffolk for parents to understand their options.

The latest inspection findings said there had been improvements but the pace of progress had been 'too slow'.

The report did, however, recognise that measures to address serious weakness in governance and leadership were bearing fruit, highlighting a reduction in school exclusions and more specialist places being created as key elements.

Cllr Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, said: “The report highlights that there are still major improvements to be made and we must increase the pace of change.

“The findings of the inspection steer us to how we need to do more to ensure all Suffolk’s children and young people benefit from a more joined up and consistent system of support that is clearly communicated to them.

“Many of Suffolk’s services are working well to support the county’s children and young people with SEND, but much more needs to be done to ensure they are able to achieve their full potential regardless of the challenges they may face.”

With the council failing to meet all of the progress areas identified, the Department for Education and NHS England will now be required to decide the next steps, which could include powers of intervention by the education secretary.

A spokesman from the Suffolk Parent Care Network (SPCN), which works with parents and carers, said: “While we have been involved in an enormous amount of work since the inspection, this report confirms what we already knew, that is the work has not yet been felt by families as some of the big changes have not yet started.

“There has not been sufficient priority given to changes which would immediately make a difference to families.

“This means it is often the case that children, young people and families are still unable to access the services and support they need and the system continues to make things harder than they need to be, resulting in families being driven to crisis point.

“The lack of communication with families from services has remained a constant frustration for SPCN and, as a result, we have now agreed with Suffolk County Council and the clinical commissioning groups that we will communicate key messages to our families from the main strategic meetings we attend.”

The report follows an announcement in January that a £45 million plan had been drawn up to build three new special schools and create hundreds of new specialist places at mainstream schools.

Dr Ed Garratt, chief officer of the NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, said the latest report made for 'a difficult read'.

“An enormous amount of work has taken place across our organisations since the original inspection in 2016," he said.

“It was pleasing the inspectors noted there has been progress, particularly in how the system is working together and how co-production is well established and effective. However, I’m under no illusion we still have a way to go before we can be satisfied children and young people with SEND are receiving the services they deserve.

“None of us will be satisfied until their parents and carers start telling us the changes we’ve introduced have made a real difference to their children’s lives.”

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