Education chiefs defend SEND provision and pledge to meet campaigners
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Education chiefs are to meet campaigners pressing for improvements in special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision in Suffolk.
The newly-formed Campaign for Change (SEND Suffolk) group has called for urgent action over what it describes as the "disgraceful state" of the current provision and said parents are "still being failed".
The group has claimed there has been no visible change in provision since a scathing Ofsted inspection in 2016.
While admitting there is still work to be done, Suffolk County Council has defended its record and told the group of the huge amount of action which is being taken to address the concerns.
In a letter to Campaign for Change, leader of the council 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.
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"Nearly 18,000 young people are supported in some way through local SEND services.
"We are working very hard with our partners in Health and in education settings to improve the SEND experience for children and families and we appreciate that we are not there yet.
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"I have read the concerns and the quotes from parents and carers detailed in your letter and I would be keen to understand how your group may wish to be part of the collective conversation in future as we continue to improve the local system to the benefit of our young people."
Mr Hicks said many of the campaign group's concerns related to schools, and individual cases, and he would speak to the new cabinet member being appointed on May 27 to discuss arranging a meeting with representatives of the group to personally hear its concerns.
Suffolk County Council has committed to invest £45million in 870 new SEND education places with some 210 places created in 2020/21 with a further 310 places due to become available in the school year 2021/22, despite facing many challenges surrounding the pandemic.
Mr Hicks said: "Whilst we do need to improve even further, the timeliness of our Education and Healthcare Plans (EHCPs) is now well over 90% and we have also increased our Quality Assurance measures for EHCPs.
"The number of EHCPs in Suffolk now stands at around 5900, with nearly 12,000 additional children receiving SEND education support.
"The frequency and timeliness of communication with families as part of this process is not always as strong as I would like it to be and despite significant investment, with such a continued rise in service demand, there are not as many places as we would hope to provide.
"Sadly, Suffolk is not alone in this, as many other areas across the country face the same pressures and challenges in demand which is why the Government has commissioned a review of the SEND system which is due to report before summer.
"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. We have worked hard to improve our local offer and continue to do so."