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"All options will be considered" for special needs improvement as senior officers to be held to account

PUBLISHED: 07:30 22 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:52 22 March 2019

Gordon Jones said

Gordon Jones said "all options will be considered" for moving Suffolk's special educational needs service forward. Picture: SIMON PARKER

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Senior officers across Suffolk's ailing special educational needs service are to be held to account for its failings, it has emerged.

Suffolk county councillor Jack Abbott  Picture: ARCHANTSuffolk county councillor Jack Abbott Picture: ARCHANT

And education chiefs warning that “all options will be considered” for the future of the service.

Suffolk’s special educational needs and disability (SEND) service was the first in the country to fail its re-inspection by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission this month, following a poor visit by the watchdogs in January 2016.

Inspectors deemed the service, run by Suffolk County Council and the clinical commissioning groups, had failed to improve substantially in three out of the four areas, meaning central government must now intervene.

But during Thursday’s full council meeting, Conservative cabinet member for education Gordon Jones said a board had been set up to help the service move forward.

“There is a plan that officers are working on. That includes quality assurance, a system-wide training programme for all frontline staff, further assurances on the local offer website and continuing to press on with more SEND places,” he said.

“The SEND oversight board will meet for the first time in April where we will hold senior officers from across service areas to account.”

Mr Jones said the board would be made up of councillors from both sides of the chamber, as well as CCG staff and user organisations.

Its first meeting will “undertake a second review following the Ofsted and CQC inspection,” and could be carried out as a ‘peer review’ style assessment with colleagues from other authorities.

Both the Labour and Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent groups had called for an independent review to be carried out into SEND services, with Mr Jones stating that “all options will be considered”.

Councillor Penny Otton, education spokesman from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group said: “I am very pleased to hear we have set up a board, I hope we will get report from that.”

She added that by next year change will have needed to happen.

Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott described the board as a “welcome step forward”.

He said: “I am yet to see the final terms but, if all is as it seems, I would be keen to join the panel as the opposition’s spokesman for education.

“If this is to work, the makeup of the board must be impartial, so it is important that we have broad representation and that key decision-makers from the cabinet and the senior officer teams are not members.

“I am pleased that Cllr Jones confirmed that my request for an independent review would be accepted by the council, if the board makes that recommendation.

“I hope this is finally a recognition that things must change.”

Top level talks between senior leaders and the Department for Education and NHS England are set to take place soon, although a date for those have not yet emerged.

It was revealed earlier this week that the Suffolk Parent Carer Network, which represents the voice of families using SEND services, had been denied a seat at the table, despite requests by both the county council and CCG.

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