Thank you for your correspondence presenting your concerns in relation to SEND services in Suffolk. On behalf of all organisations and community partners involved in delivering the services, we share your demonstratable 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.
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. 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.
The council has committed to invest £45m 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. As part of this work, the new Sir Bobby Robson school in Ipswich has opened will be operating at full capacity from September 2021 which I’m sure you’ll agree is great news.
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. The Local Offer website now consistently receives over a 1,000 hits per month and our tailored SEND social media channels reach around 45,000 interested people locally.
SEND is an area of work we share responsibility with our partners in health. In recent times, East and West Suffolk NHS CCGs have invested an additional £1m in Speech and Language Therapy and over £700,000 in services for children with Neuro Developmental difficulties which will be available shortly. Local parents, carers and young people were fully included in the co-production and commissioning of these services, hearing the bids from potential providers.
Suffolk remains a relatively low-funded authority, receiving less money per head than a number of our geographical neighbours. We continue to campaign tirelessly on this issue and thanks to these efforts, the gap is beginning to narrow. To make the most of the finances we have at our disposal, we have revised the high needs funding system so that funding follows the child through their education, rather than being dependent on what provision the child goes to. We have also re-organised and broadened our Specialist Education Service to be much more responsive to schools and other education settings we work in partnership with.
To improve connection to the work of schools in Suffolk which support young people with SEND, we have brought the Educational Psychology and Therapeutic Service back into Suffolk County Council, so it is integrated with related services, working with Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinators (SENDCos) in schools, operating a SENDCo advice line and holding regular network meetings on a county-wide basis. We have also developed a post-16 Transitions Guide that has been recognised with a national award in 2020.
Many of the statements made in your open letter relate to schools, and individual cases. Suffolk County Council’s new Cabinet Member for this service area will be appointed on Thursday (27th May) and I will discuss with them about arranging a meeting with representatives of the Campaign for Change (SEND Suffolk) to personally hear your concerns.
Leader of Suffolk County Council
County Councillor for the Thredling Division
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