Suffolk's education service criticised

A GOVERNMENT watchdog has today strongly criticised Suffolk's record in special needs education. A Local Government Ombudsman investigation of a complaint by a couple about their son's education found Suffolk County Council guilty of 'maladminstration causing injustice'.

A GOVERNMENT watchdog has today strongly criticised Suffolk's record in special needs education.

A Local Government Ombudsman investigation of a complaint by a couple about their son's education found Suffolk County Council guilty of 'maladminstration causing injustice'.

The ombudsman has now recommended that the council review other similar cases as well as offering an apology to the family and pay out £1,000 in compensation.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council said that they always hoped to resolve any problems before they got as far as the Ombudsman and that they would be considering the report to see what action to take.

Linda Sheppard, executive director of support group ADHD in Suffolk said she was pleased at the news.

She has also had a long-running battle with Suffolk County Council over their failure to provide appropriate special needs support for her son Zaque and is currently working on taking her case to the Court of Human Rights.

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She said: "This is happening all the time - good on the parents for taking the action.

"Perhaps it might make the council start to do their jobs properly.

"We seem to have got to the stage where, unless you take some sort of legal action, you will not get the needs met.

"If the council provide the provision they are supposed to in the first place they would not find themselves paying out thousands in compensation."

The Ombudsman's report said a 'Miss Fallon' and 'Mr Butler' (not their real names) complained about the council's failure to make proper provision for their son 'Stephen' who has special educational needs.

The family is believed to be from the Ipswich area but the report is unable to use real names due to legal restrictions.

The report said: "The complainants say they and Stephen have been caused unnecessary distress and uncertainty, and that Stephen's educational progress has been prejudiced because of the council's delay in making appropriate provision for the full extent of his special educational needs."

The report criticised the council's previous practice of not outlining the number of hours of special educational provision on statements - a document that makes up part of the special needs assessment process - and its failure to specify provision in Stephen's statement, issued in 2002.

It goes on to highlight shortcomings in the conduct of a review of the statement conducted in February 2003 and criticises the council's advice to withdraw Stephen from school.

It said: "Stephen and his parents were left in unsatisfactory limbo following his withdrawal from school in February 2003, because of the council's delay in reviewing his statement."

Despite the criticisms the ombudsman found no reason to doubt that the secondary school Stephen attended gave him special needs support.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council said: "We take issues such as this very seriously as we always hope to resolve problems before they get to this stage. We will be responding appropriately to the Ombudsman's findings."

The council now has to consider the report and tell the ombudsman what action it proposes to take.

It is expected to issue a full statement in response to the criticism tomorrow.

Have you had a similar experience with the council? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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