Suffolk's SEND services to undergo independent review after parent concerns

It's normal to have worries about your child's education and progress in school

Parents and carers have been calling for an independent audit of Suffolk County Council's SEND services (stock image) - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The way parents and carers are communicated with and kept informed of their child’s special educational needs and disability (SEND) services in Suffolk is set to undergo an immediate independent review.

Senior professionals with no link to or direct involvement with Suffolk’s provision are set to carry out the assessment, according to a weekend announcement from Suffolk County Council (SCC).

It is expected to focus on the processes, communication protocols, and family-facing elements of SEND services within Suffolk County Council.

Officials said the review aims to determine if current systems in place are sufficient, and the announcement follows weeks of mounting concern among parents and carers.

Rachel Hood, Suffolk County Council (SCC)’s newly-appointed cabinet member for education, SEND, and skills, said: “I know that every parent and carer wants the best for their children, especially when it comes to education and care. SCC wants the same and must strive to provide the very best services we can.

Suffolk County Council cabinet member for education, Rachel Hood

Councillor Rachel Hood, new Conservative cabinet member for education, skills and special educational needs and disabilities at Suffolk County Council - Credit: Suffolk County Council

“The findings of this immediate independent review will help us to understand our strengths and weaknesses and identify any changes that need to be made.

She added: “The way in which SEND provision is delivered with our partners has improved significantly over the last 18 months, but we must always work to improve what we do, especially when we are faced with increasing demand for special educational support."

The scope of the review is still being finalised, but is expected to look at:

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  • The effective flow of cases
  • Communication with young people and families 
  • Processes for dealing with incoming enquiries from young people and families in a timely manner
  • A focus on the family-facing elements of the service
  • The allocation of provision and placement in a timely way for children

Anne Humphrys, co-chair of Suffolk Parent Carer Network, said: “We know that many families still experience frustration with a system that doesn’t always respond to the needs of their children and young people.

"SPCN welcomes the independent review following our feedback about how families experience services.

Anne Humphrys is a member of the Suffolk Parent Carer Network. Picture: ANNE HUMPHRYS

Anne Humphrys is a member of the Suffolk Parent Carer Network. Picture: ANNE HUMPHRYS - Credit: Archant

“We hope it will result in change that improves the lived experience of families.”

‘No visible change’

It comes after weeks of criticism levelled at SCC’s SEND provision. 

In a strongly-worded open letter to Suffolk County Council (SCC), the newly-formed Campaign for Change (SEND Suffolk) group said parents are "still being failed" and claimed there had been no visible change in provision since a scathing Ofsted inspection in 2016.

The group, which is made up of around 120 parents and carers of children and adults with additional needs, said it wants to change the way families are treated by the education system in the county.

Children in a classroom

SEND services at SCC have been criticised (stock image) - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The letter read: "There is a deep embedded culture, between SCC and schools which has to change.

"Children and young people should be valued members of society, supported appropriately to meet their full potential, but the reality and lived experiences of our members paints a picture of failure after failure.

"We have been waiting patiently since the scathing Ofsted inspection in 2016, but we are over four years on and no visible change has happened."

The Campaign for Change group, which also has a number of case studies on its website, said Suffolk still does not have enough appropriate specialist provisions. 

Responding to the group, SCC leader Matthew Hicks said: "On behalf of all organisations and community partners involved in delivering the services, we share your demonstrable commitment towards continuing to evolve and improve the SEND offering available in Suffolk.

"Enhancing this provision is one of Suffolk County Council’s highest priorities.  

Matthew Hicks

SCC leader Matthew Hicks has been responding to letters from the SEND campaign group - Credit: Gregg Brown

"Nearly 18,000 young people are supported in some way through local SEND services.

"We want to support every young person with the level of tailored personal service they require, and we understand that any delay or waiting time can be frustrating to that young person and their family.”

SEND services in Suffolk are delivered by SCC alongside Suffolk's NHS commissioning groups and educational settings. 

Details of who will conduct the review, alongside timescales, are to be confirmed in the coming weeks.

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