Suffolk's children with special educational needs are still being failed despite several warnings according to a damning new OFSTED report which says families have been let down.

The report follows an inspection of the service in November - and demands improvements before officials return in 18 months' time.

The report prompted apologies and promises to improve from Suffolk County Council and NHS officials - but parents and opposition politicians say they have heard that before.

There was a scathing report into SEND in Suffolk in 2016 - which led to promises of improvement.

Three years later officials showed off what had changed - but by 2021 parents said major problems remained.

East Anglian Daily Times: There have been several protests about SEND provision in Suffolk - this was in March last year.There have been several protests about SEND provision in Suffolk - this was in March last year. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

Now the latest report says there are still huge problems in the service.

This time inspectors say: "Children and young people (in Suffolk) face a system that has not worked well for a long time.

"They and their families have not seen the improvements they should from the area’s leadership. Their needs are not identified quickly or accurately enough. Assessments for support take too long.

"When the right help is put in place, it is often only at the point of crisis.

"As a result, children with education, health and care (EHC) plans in Suffolk achieve less well in school than similar pupils elsewhere, and are much more likely to be excluded and to find themselves not in education, employment or training (NEET)."

It is particularly critical of the time taken to assess problems: "Needs are not identified early or well.

"There are many individual practitioners who build up a careful picture of children and young people’s needs.

"For instance, early help services provide prompt assessment and support. However, significant delays in the processes for EHC plans and annual reviews mean that, frequently, needs are identified too late.

"Families experience long waiting times for services, such as for autism assessment and diagnosis.

"Often, children’s needs are not clearly identified or articulated in their plan. This leads to some parents and carers being left not knowing how best to help their children.

"Unidentified and unmet needs sometimes manifest in behaviours which too frequently result in many not accessing mainstream settings, because of  exclusion or absence.

"That said, pupils who need provision in alternative provision and special schools often get the positive support that they previously lacked."

Meanwhile officials and councillors from the county and local health services apologised for the state of SEND provision - and their inability to correct failings earlier.

East Anglian Daily Times: Rachel Hood met protestors at Endeavour House in March last year.Rachel Hood met protestors at Endeavour House in March last year. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

Rachel Hood, Cabinet Member for SEND at the council said: “We are sorry that experiences and outcomes of some children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities are not as good as they should be, and as we want them to be.

“The report has confirmed that we already know where our problems are and we will continue with our programme of significant investment and reform so that improvements  are felt by all."

Nicola Beach, chief executive of Suffolk County Council, said:  “We accept that our improvement work has not yet had the positive impact on the  experience of children and young people with SEND and their families in Suffolk.

“This is not good enough and I apologise to children and young people and their families. 

“We accept the findings of the report and we must now go further and faster as a  partnership to deliver the urgent improvements needed."

Ed Garratt, chief executive of NHS Suffolk & East Essex ICB, said: “Children in Suffolk with special educational needs and disabilities deserve the very best support available, and it is deeply disappointing that as a system we have still not been able to deliver this for them.

“The inspectors provided positive feedback about our crisis mental health support and peripatetic service, which is an excellent collaboration with our voluntary and community sector partners."

Opposition councillors at Suffolk County Council reacted with anger and dismay today following the publication of the report.

Ash Lever, Green, LibDem and Independent Group spokesperson for Education and Child Protection, said: “This report is devastating for the families and children that it is the council’s job to support and serve.

"SEND services in Suffolk have been failing for years and the administration has shown no sign that it is able to get to grips with it.

"Moreover, the Conservatives’ proposed budget makes devastating inspections like these all the more likely, as they are planning significant cuts to the education and learning service, early years and skills.

"This means that families will struggle even more to access the help they need. This report is proof positive that this Conservative run council is in danger of failing an entire generation.”

Former Labour councillor Jack Abbott said: “This is yet another damning report into Suffolk County Council’s special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision.

"How many more are we supposed to read before the lived experiences of families start to improve?

“This systemic failure has continued for a decade, and yet we are supposed to believe that this time things will be different, that this time the Conservatives really mean it when they say that SEND is now a priority.

“I, and the families who have been left exhausted and broken by Suffolk County Council’s negligence, have completely lost faith that they will ever turn this around. After ignoring this crisis for so long, the Government must now intervene to provide the resources and expertise Suffolk County Council so clearly needs."