Call for Whitehall to take over Suffolk SEND service

Christmas holidays are fast approaching, but what are the term dates in Suffolk?

Campaigners want a commissioner to take over Suffolk's SEND service. Stock photo - Credit: Getty Images/Hemera

Special educational needs campaigners in Suffolk have met with Government education officials to call for a commissioner to take over the running of Suffolk’s SEND service.

Campaign for Change (Suffolk SEND) members met with the Department for Education on Friday, where they outlined their concerns about special educational needs and disabilities provision at Suffolk County Council.

Campaigners urged the secretary of state to install a commissioner to oversee the running of the county council’s team, to help drive improvements.

The DfE said it is working with the county council to assess what more can be done, but it is understood it would not go as far as parachuting in a commissioner at this stage. It pledged to scrutinise the service closely and look at the potential for other measures this summer.

Alex Tomczynski from Campaign for Change, said: “The officials were shocked with the evidence that we presented to them, especially around children out of school, data quality and control of finances.

"Urgent action is required to provide competent SEND leadership at the council and ensure that the law on SEND is complied with. At the moment, current council leaders are throwing good money after bad, spending £250k on management consultants whilst children languish without the special education provision that the law guarantees them.

“We hope that any proper investigation will show that leadership change is required and we will be writing to the secretary of state again to demand his intervention.”

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Another meeting of the group with the DfE is set to take place this autumn.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Making sure all children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities receive the right support, in the right place, at the right time is a key focus of our SEND green paper proposals, which are currently open to consultation.

“We are working closely with Suffolk to ensure their plans for improving their SEND services lead to positive changes, so all children get a high-quality education regardless of need.

“We are confident that leaders in Suffolk are taking these concerns seriously and have plans in place to address them, including substantial new investment – but we will not hesitate to take further action to drive improvement if necessary.”

The campaign group claims statutory duties are not being met, exposed in a number of Ombudsman findings in recent months.

It said only 54% of pupils with Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) were getting their statutory annual review, and claimed that hundreds of SEND youngsters were being left without suitable full-time education.

The council has embarked on an improvement plan following the independent Lincolnshire Review. In its latest update of work since January, the council says it has recruited 13 family services officers and an educational psychologist – with a further two education psychologists set to join in September.

Elsewhere, it has begun work to recruit another 20 new employees in the team thanks to a £1.1million uplift in the service’s budget, additional training for SEND decision making was held in April and ‘time to listen’ events were carried out in March to hear directly from parents.

Work already underway included improvement to its IT systems, recruitment of a specialist SEND lawyer and ambitions to review how EHCP plans are implemented.

Rachel Hood, cabinet member for education, SEND and skills, said: “We have been told by the Department for Education that there are no plans for an investigation or a commissioner visit. A recent visit by the Department for Education and NHS England confirmed that ‘good progress’ has been made in Suffolk SEND education reform.

“Reforming the way we deliver SEND services is a significant piece of work and good progress have been made. We acknowledge we have some way to go, but we will not be knocked off course.”