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Cross-party calls for urgent inquiry into 'dreadful' special needs system

PUBLISHED: 05:30 24 June 2019

Protestors gathered in Christchurch Park at the end of the Suffolk SEND march Picture: AMY GIBBONS

Protestors gathered in Christchurch Park at the end of the Suffolk SEND march Picture: AMY GIBBONS

AMY GIBBONS

Councillors from across the political spectrum are calling for "fresh set of eyes" to evaluate Suffolk's special needs system, in the wake of a scathing inspection by health and education watchdogs.

Jack Abbott, Labour spokesman for children's services, education and skills, has signed the open letter  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNJack Abbott, Labour spokesman for children's services, education and skills, has signed the open letter Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

In a cross-party letter, Nicola Beach, chief executive of Suffolk County Council (SCC), has been urged to establish an independent inquiry into a service that has reportedly left hundreds of children without adequate support and provision.

The letter, signed by 20 councillors at SCC, says that an "objective, transparent and frank evaluation" needs to take place in order to improve services for children across the county with special needs and disabilities (SEND).

The councillors claim "hundreds of families have suffered for months and years because of a lack of support and provision," while SCC has lost 90% of SEND cases taken to tribunal.

MORE: 'This is a right, not a luxury' - Parents march through Ipswich to protest against special needs cuts

Councillor Jack Abbott (left), with the parents and children protesting cuts to special needs services Picture: AMY GIBBONSCouncillor Jack Abbott (left), with the parents and children protesting cuts to special needs services Picture: AMY GIBBONS

It comes after SCC was handed a scathing report by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, making Suffolk's SEND service the first of its kind in the country to fail a re-inspection by the health and education watchdogs.

Parents and carers have since clubbed together to express their frustration - arguing the system is "not fit for purpose" and "enough is enough".

Jack Abbott, Labour spokesman for children's services, education and skills, and one of the letter's signatories, said: "For too long, SCC has marked its own homework, but the lived experiences for hundreds of children and families remain desperate. Things are simply not getting better and that was borne out by the dreadful SEND inspection revisit earlier in the year.

"The fact that councillors from across the political spectrum joined me in signing this letter demonstrates the strength of feeling on this.

Parents, carers, children and supporters gathered outside Endeavour House in Ipswich during the Suffolk SEND march Picture: AMY GIBBONSParents, carers, children and supporters gathered outside Endeavour House in Ipswich during the Suffolk SEND march Picture: AMY GIBBONS

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"The defensive, bunker mentality on this issue needs to end - this is about children and families, not the council's reputation.

"The council must put aside its pride, remove the politics and partisanship from the process, and ask for external help so it can finally start delivering the SEND services our county so desperately needs."

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Parents and carers across the region recently launched an urgent plea to fix the failing special needs system Picture: ARCHANTParents and carers across the region recently launched an urgent plea to fix the failing special needs system Picture: ARCHANT

Penny Otton, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group (LDGI) at SCC, added: "It's clear that families of children with SEND are being failed in Suffolk, which is why we are once again requesting an independent inquiry.

"We need a fresh set of eyes to look at what is going so badly wrong. That is the only way to help SCC improve the service it provides to these vulnerable children.

"The current SEND Oversight Board, which the LDGI Group has been excluded from and which is being managed by the cabinet member for children's services, is not the solution.

"The board isn't objective, it isn't able to scrutinise, and it won't uncover the solutions. SCC can't afford to waste any more time - we urgently need to transform our SEND services."

MORE: Council misses children's care plan targets in 75% of cases

A spokeswoman for SCC said: "We can confirm that the letter has been received and Councillor Abbott will receive a response in due course. We will be happy to share this with members of the media at that time.

"We understand the sensitivity around this service and we are committed to continue supporting young people and their families."

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