Suffolk local area partnership commits to urgent improvements to SEND services and apologises to families

30th January 2024
  • Ofsted and CQC Inspection Report finds significant concerns with SEND services
  • The Local Area Partnership promise urgent action to accelerate and strengthen improvement plans
  • Senior leaders offer joint apology to Suffolk families

The partnership responsible for overseeing and delivering services for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in Suffolk have apologised to families and commits to urgent action to strengthen and accelerate improvement plans following an inspection by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission.

The inspection, which took place in November, highlighted that ‘there are widespread and/or systemic failings leading to significant concerns’ about the experiences and outcomes of children and young people with SEND. The report can be read here.

The local area partnership which delivers SEND services is made up of Suffolk County Council, the NHS Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care Board (ICB) and NHS Norfolk and Waveney ICB.

The inspection report, published January 30, identifies two priority actions as follows:

1) The partnership should work more collaboratively and effectively to improve strategic planning. This needs to deliver systems with measurable impact that will create better experiences and outcomes for children and young people with SEND

2) Leaders should cooperate to take urgent action to improve the timeliness and quality of the statutory Education Health Care plan process, Education Health Care plan needs assessments and Education Health Care plans and annual reviews. This should ensure that plans meaningfully capture the views and aspirations of children and young people with SEND and their families, so that they get the right support at the right time

The local area partnership is now implementing a number of urgent actions. These include the proposed investment of £4.4 million into SEND services next year by Suffolk County Council (subject to Full Council agreement on February 15), and the establishment of a Suffolk SEND Improvement Board, which will be chaired by an Independent Chair, to oversee the improvement plan and actions needed. A new SEND Strategy is also in the process of being co-produced with parents and carers to set the strategic direction.

Nicola Beach, Chief Executive of Suffolk County Council, said:

“We accept that our improvement work has not yet had the positive impact on the experience of children and young people with SEND and their families in Suffolk.

“This is not good enough and I apologise to children and young people and their families. “We accept the findings of the report and we must now go further and faster as a partnership to deliver the urgent improvements needed.

“Our SEND staff work with passion and conviction every day to make children’s lives better and it is important to recognise this and thank them for their ongoing hard work and commitment. I understand the challenges that colleagues face and that is why I will continue to work with senior leaders from the NHS to strengthen changes to make a difference.”

Ed Garratt, Chief Executive of NHS Suffolk & East Essex ICB, said:

“Children in Suffolk with special educational needs and disabilities deserve the very best support available, and it is deeply disappointing that as a system we have still not been able to deliver this for them.

“Despite the very great challenges around demand and funding, the ICB is absolutely committed to working with its system partners to ensure the required improvements to services are achieved as speedily as possible.

“We have already identified ways we can reduce the current long waiting times for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) assessment and diagnoses and a recovery plan is being implemented and has been shared with the Ofsted and CQC inspectors.

“The ICB has also invested £700,000 in recurring funding in the voluntary and community sector to provide support for families waiting for these diagnoses, as well as co-producing a new parent resource pack as part of the Suffolk Local Offer. This is in addition to £1.2m invested recently in our Childrens Mental Health Services.

“The inspectors provided positive feedback about our crisis mental health support and peripatetic service, which is an excellent collaboration with our voluntary and community sector partners.”

Tracey Bleakley, Chief Executive, NHS Norfolk and Waveney ICB, said:

“We recognise that special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) services in the Waveney area of Suffolk have not met the high standards which our children and young people need and deserve.

“We acknowledge that waits to access some support are still too long and the ICB is committed to working with system partners including families to continue to listen and respond to feedback with respect to the need to reduce waits and meet needs earlier.

“We have invested in a number of significant transformation programmes of work, including implementation of a successful keyworker service, known locally as Care Navigators for children and young people with learning disabilities and/or autism, and improved speech and language provision for children with education, health and care plans in Waveney, reducing wait times from two years to eight months.

“We have also delivered a waiting list initiative for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)/ Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) assessments in response to increased pathway waits, to be expanded in 2024/25, and improved the support offer for children and young people with eating disorders and disordered eating.

“By working collaboratively with partners we are confident that we can make the necessary improvements to SEND services to ensure that children, young people and their families and carers can access the support they need, when they need it.”

Rachel Hood, Cabinet Member for Education, SEND and Skills, at Suffolk County Council said:

“We are sorry that experiences and outcomes of some children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities are not as good as they should be, and as we want them to be.

“The report has confirmed that we already know where our problems are and we will continue with our programme of significant investment and reform so that improvements are felt by all.

“There are more than 21,000 children and young people identified in Suffolk schools as having SEND. This number has increased by 30% since 2019. We are aware we have struggled to keep up with this demand.

“Sadly, we are not alone in the challenges we face and, alongside our Suffolk MPs, we continue to lobby Government for greater support. Nationally, the Government accepts that SEND provision is not working well and published its improvement plan in March 2023, which promises widespread reform and help for local partners.

“In the meantime, we will continue to bolster and increase the pace of our improvement.”

Alongside key priorities, the report identifies a number of areas where the partnership is working well. These include:

  • In some areas, the local area partnership has worked successfully to improve services
  • Strong levels of capital investment have increased the availability of special school places
  • Initiatives to equip professionals in schools, such as the online tool to support schools, Valuing SEND or VSEND, are showing early signs of impact
  • Several health teams support families sensitively and successfully, including the neonatal physiotherapy service
  • Social care teams are effective. Social work assessments and reviews are comprehensive and helpful.
  • Many providers, such as schools and colleges, praise their relationship with the local area partnership

As a result of this inspection, a monitoring inspection will be carried out within approximately 18 months. The local area partnership is now required to prepare and submit a priority action plan to address the identified areas for priority action.

The Ofsted and CQC report follows two years of significant investment into the way SEND services are delivered in Suffolk. Reform progress has been monitored by the Department for Education, who reported in March 2023, that progress was ‘reassuring’ and noted ‘the leadership’s commitment to improvement in a wide range of areas’.

Significant pieces of reform include:

  • Investment of more than £55 million to create more than 1,250 additional places in specialist and mainstream schools
  • Creation of specialist SEND support teams and training for all Suffolk schools to support them to meet the additional needs of children in mainstream schools
  • Proposed investment of £4.4m in 2024/25 and £3.4m in 2025/26 to expand our statutory SEND teams and secure sufficient educational psychology resource to improve the quality and timeliness of Education Health and Care assessments and reviews
  • The ICB has invested £700,000 in recurring funding in the voluntary and community sector to provide support for families waiting for these diagnoses, as well as co-producing a new parent resource pack as part of the Suffolk Local Offer
  • £1.2m has recently invested recently in Suffolk’s Childrens Mental Health Services