'We are determined to make SEND services better in Suffolk'

Conservative cabinet member for education, Rachel Hood

Conservative cabinet member for education, Rachel Hood - Credit: Simon Lee Photography Suffolk UK

I want to dedicate this column today to the situation with Suffolk’s special educational needs and disabilities (known as SEND) provision. I was newly elected in May to this Cabinet position and SEND became my first priority.  

You will have seen coverage in today’s paper about an Independent Report into our services. This report follows a review carried out by a team from Lincolnshire, including Lincolnshire County Council and a parent carer network, and was commissioned by ourselves after a significant increase in correspondents from concerned parents and carers earlier this year.

This wasn’t a review of everything we do, but focussed on the processes, communication protocols and family-facing elements of our SEND services.  I would like to share with you the outcomes and actions we are taking following publication of the review yesterday. The review has found that we must change what we are doing in a number of areas.

I would like to say sorry for the difficulties that some families have experienced as a result of how we have been doing things. We recognise that we have let down some children and young people as certain aspects of our services have simply not been good enough.

Our priority now is to implement wide-scale improvements, and to do this with pace, impact and efficiency. We have already started to make improvements to the way we do things and whilst, wide-scale improvement will take time, we are determined to make things better.

There have been many positive changes to the way we deliver SEND services in the past 18 months and we are proud of these, but clearly there is some way to go.

The review made nine recommendations and we have used these to draft an action plan, which can be read online.

One of the recommendations made in the review was to work with a third-party organisation to deliver improvements. The council has since secured Impower as a strategic partner, who will bring capacity and extensive experience of working on SEND systems across the country.

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This partnership work began yesterday. Other recommendations include staff training, reviewing the process for allocating specialist placements and working with education leaders and parents and carers to understand the demand for specialist provision and use of data and local intelligence to inform sufficient planning. 

We have already made significant longer-term improvements within SEND, which we continue to build upon.

We have agreed a £45.1m capital programme to create an additional 870 specialist education places over a 5-year period to 2024.

Two hundred and ten places opened last year with a further 310 opening this academic year and includes new specialist schools in Bungay, Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds. We have also improved the time in which it takes us to issue Education Health and Care Plans from 18% in 2016 to 95% in 2021. £1million has also been invested into speech and language therapies by Ipswich & East Suffolk and West Suffolk CCGs.  

At the moment, more than 6,000 children in Suffolk currently have a health and care plan to identify what support they need to help with their special educational needs. The number has nearly doubled from 3,000 in 2014.

A further 12,000 pupils have special educational needs and do not require a health and care plan. Currently, there are 2,000 places at either special schools or specialist units for those with more complex needs. We continue to increase the number of places.

Your children’s education and welfare is fundamental – I fully recognise this as a parent myself. We want to work together to give your children and young people the very best chance in life. 

We accept without reservation the findings of the review and are grateful to the Lincolnshire team for their attention to detail, professionalism and advice. We have learnt very valuable lessons from this review, and we will act on these recommendations in the best and quickest way.

You can read the report and action plan at www.suffolk.gov.uk

If you would like to discuss any aspect of the report or action plan please contact us via email at SendReview@suffolk.gov.uk

- Rachel Hood is cabinet member for education at Suffolk County Council.

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