Dear Councillor Hicks
We listened with interest to your interview on BBC Radio Suffolk and thought it best if we wrote to you privately before you responded to our public letter and met with your Chief Executive.
Firstly on the topic of anonymity, we are happy to identify ourselves to you and have done so at the foot of this email. However we nearly all have SEND children in the Suffolk system and are nervous of victimisation as we call out the widespread malpractice that we see at SCC. It is important to note that we are simply people who have volunteered to organise our group - made up of now well over 300 mainly SEND parents and carers but also wider family, professionals and local councillors (we welcome these from any party). These people have been widely consulted and involved in drafting our public letters and statements. They include various highly qualified people and those with senior experience in SEND and education management. This is not about our individual cases. It is about ending the endemic malpractice we have seen over many hundreds or more cases.
Unfortunately you do not appear to have received a satisfactory brief and consequently have made some errors during your interview.
You said that the NHS was also responsible for EHCP assessments. This is untrue, the Local Authority alone is responsible for ensuring EHCP assessments are carried out. In reality SCC routinely refuse to assess despite clear clinical diagnoses and recommendations from NHS clinicians. This is the source of many tribunal proceedings.
The listener who raised the question was correct. SCC often refuse to assess for SEND and lose the vast majority of those that are then taken to tribunal. This shows these SCC decisions are routinely wrong - for the purposes of avoiding creating an EHCP and having to pay for subsequent provision. This malpractice is what your officers are actually talking about when they brief you on ‘tight controls’ and ‘cost minimisation’ (phrases seen in official SCC SEND management papers).
This is obviously the tip of the iceberg with most parents not having the resources to mount a tribunal challenge.
Where SCC do assess for an EHCP (often due to a tribunal order or SCC drops the case at the last moment) these are, as you say, currently completed 90% on time. You omit that this only due to proportional reduction in EHCP assessments due to lock down*. However the EHCP quality is deliberately non-compliant with legal requirements in order to avoid SCC liability for provision - detailing this specific provision is the whole purpose of an EHCP. The content of SCC EHCP quality checks are not disclosed and these are only done internally.
As a specialist Suffolk Solicitor stated in formal legal advice to one of our members:
“The vast majority of EHC Plans that we see are void of provision.”
You are right to say we raise serious allegations. However we are in no doubt of their validity having witnessed this behaviour by officials first hand and heard about hundreds of similar cases. It is the kind of professional practice that would see some of us struck off from our professions or worse, were we to act similarly in our roles.
We wonder why SCC has not dealt with this malpractice when it has been so often highlighted by judges at the SEND Tribunal,
OFSTED inspectors and upheld LGO complaints.
The OFSTED ‘excellent’ rating you mentioned specifically excludes SEND. SEND was inspected by Ofsted most recently in February 2019 and:
"Inspectors are of the opinion that local area leaders have not made sufficient progress to improve the serious weaknesses identified at the initial inspection:”
So hardly excellent - your comments misled the listeners.
We would ask that you do not repeat these misleading statements in public again. We are of course in regular contact with local TV, radio and newspapers, who I am sure would be more than happy to carry our corrections - alongside one more from the myriad of heartbreaking cases from our membership.
These corrections are a matter of fact. The only real question is the extent of the epidemic of SEND malpractice and the extent to which it has been directed by senior SCC officers. For this reason we repeat our demand for an independent legal audit of cases, policies and staff training - with terms of reference agreed with us and taking into account our evidence.
Whilst we are happy to meet with you in due course, none of these issues are new. All are well known and have been highlighted by the SEND Tribunal, LGO and OFSTED. You should be asking officers why it has only been brought to your attention by parents and not by them.
You do not have our consent to share the following personal data with any council officers: