Critical details of a £32,000 report commissioned by council chiefs into the provision of special educational needs in Suffolk can be revealed today despite parents' previous requests to see it being blocked.

Consultant and expert in children’s services Anthony Douglas – previously director of social services for Suffolk and chief executive of Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service – was paid £1,000 per day by the authority for the report.

The report was published last Tuesday, the same day the findings of an Ofsted inspection from last November were released.

The Ofsted report criticised "widespread and/or systemic failings" in the Suffolk local area partnership.

Fieldwork by Mr Douglas, who has more than 20 years of experience working in children's services, was carried out between April and September 2023.

A Freedom of Information request was submitted by campaigners on December 8, 2023, in a bid to access the report, but this was later denied on January 16, 2024, on the basis it would be published in future.

This newspaper has now seen the document and it runs to 4,288 words over 10 pages.

As reported by this newspaper, Suffolk parents of children with SEND have recounted a catalogue of failings, and describe being ignored, calling the county council's apologies "a sham".

Three members of the county council's cabinet and deputy cabinet – Rachel Hood, James Reeder and Chris Chambers – stood down from their roles over the weekend.

The local authority's executive director of people services and director of children and young people left late last year.

East Anglian Daily Times: Anthony DouglasAnthony Douglas (Image: Archant/SCC)

The Douglas report was produced after conversations with families, professionals and other interested groups in the county in order to assist the council in making improvements and provide an “independent opinion” and advice, guidance and best practice.

Mr Douglas highlighted how Suffolk's performance for GCSEs and A levels is among the weakest when compared with other counties, while pupil attainment was found to be below the national average.

His report found the service would benefit from “stronger, visible leadership” by senior officers in the department.

It found Suffolk was an outlier for suspensions and exclusions of children with Educational, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and SEND support, with rates much higher than the regional and national average.

The county’s performance on completing EHCPs within the 20 weeks allowed in law is one of the lowest in the country, and improving on this is quite difficult once authorities are in this “hole”, the report added.

While Mr Douglas said he was impressed by the "huge efforts" made to put in place a "coherent practice model", he added: "The fact that there are no stunning improvements to show for it is only because the starting point was so far back."

Campaign for Change (Suffolk SEND), a group of parent and carers campaigning for change within the county council’s SEND department, said that the report did not go far enough.

East Anglian Daily Times: Rachel Hood, who was cabinet member for SEND at Suffolk County Council before resigningRachel Hood, who was cabinet member for SEND at Suffolk County Council before resigning (Image: Charlotte Bond)

A spokesman for the group said: "The extraordinary amount of money spent on consultancy is indicative of the total lack of council leadership grip over the Suffolk SEND crisis. 

"The Anthony Douglas 10-page report is useful for again highlighting leadership failures, but at the cost of £32,000 it just highlights a selection of SEND issues that a vaguely competent council should have known about already and fails to identify specific root causes to fix.

"It is disappointing that after spending so much time with both parents and providers there are no constructive actions stated or dates when they should be in place.

"What is the purpose of writing a further strategy whilst all the while actual changes are being left unaddressed and the needs of our children are still ignored?

"The children do not have years to wait for the 'corporate ship' to get its act together."

A spokesman from Suffolk County Council said: "We commissioned independent consultant, Anthony Douglas MBE, with our SEND reform to help us strengthen the pace and focus of our improvement work. An expert voice was needed with reform of this scale.

"Anthony’s guidance and the recommendations made following the Ofsted and CQC report will inform the SEND improvement plan."

Mr Douglas said: "The published letter is only a small element of the work I did over six months, in advising and influencing the county council how best it can tackle the systemic faultlines in the local SEND system.

"My recommendations about leadership, customer care and education do in my view go to the heart of what is now needed to restore trust and confidence and to improve services to children and their families sustainably."