Felixstowe: Problems with Suffolk SEND provision continue to impact children and families
By Siobhan Middleton (local democracy reporter)
15th Nov 2022 | Local News
Failures to implement support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Suffolk continued after a review recommending improvements.
An independent review into SEND by a team from Lincolnshire was commissioned by Suffolk County Council in June 2021 and was published in September 2021.
Upheld complaints on the website of the local government and social care ombudsman's (LGSCO) website show problems with provision of the support needed by children with SEND remained after this review.
These include a case decided in September, in which the council was told to pay £2,350 to the mother of a child with SEND who did not get sufficient education between January and July 2022.
In another case decided in June, it was agreed the council would pay £875 to the mother of a child who did not receive the speech and language therapy they needed between September 2021 and January 2022.
A Suffolk County Council spokesperson explained almost all ombudsman complaints pre-date the Lincolnshire Review and the few remaining cases that follow the date are based on agreed improvements not yet having been felt or fully implemented.
Steven Wright, a parent of children with disabilities and a member of SEND campaign group Campaign for Change, said: "What worries us so much as parents is that we keep getting told there are all these improvements and that the problems are in the past.
"There is plenty of evidence that SEND cases are not historic, and it certainly doesn't match with the stories of the families involved in the campaign.
"We just don't see evidence for that, and we worry that SEND provision has turned into a PR exercise. You can't solve a problem if you're pretending it doesn't exist.
"Only a tiny proportion of people get to the point of complaining to the LGSCO, as a lot of people believe it's a difficult process. It is very much the tip of the iceberg."
A widowed father, Mr Wright said his fifteen-year-old son's education has been highly disrupted since 2017 due to failures to implement his EHCP fully. As a result, he has been unable to gain any qualifications.
The council has recently offered Mr Wright £3,000 for failures to provide what is required by his children's education health and care plans (EHCP) – which set out the extra support children need and which councils have a legal obligation to follow.
Seven of Wright's LGSCO complaints have been upheld and four are ongoing.
Rachel Hood, cabinet member for education, SEND and skills said: "A significant amount of money and resource continues to be invested into widescale reform of the way we deliver SEND services in Suffolk.
"Reform of this scale will not be felt by all families immediately, especially against a challenging national situation, but effective improvement is being seen."
So far this year, £23,300 has been awarded by the council in remedy payments specifically in relation to SEND placements.
Commenting on this figure, Adam Robertson, a town councillor and Liberal Democrat spokesperson who has Asperger's syndrome, said: "I am concerned that Suffolk County Council are not fulfilling the recommendations made by the Lincolnshire Review and not learning from the decisions made by the LGCSO by critically analysing SEND processes across Suffolk"
A council spokesperson stated that 22 of the actions set out in the Lincolnshire review have been actioned and the remaining ten actions are to be completed by December 2022.
The council has agreed the delivery of 1,317 new specialist places either in new schools or units linked to mainstream schools by 2026. 826 of these new places are now open across Suffolk.
Suffolk County Council paid just over £146,000 to families of children with SEND between October 2018 and October 2022 due to upheld complaints. This includes all cases – not just LGSCO ones.