Last week, Suffolk County Council, responsible for education, and the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), responsible for health, received a letter from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission about special educational needs and disability provision (SEND). Their findings on their January inspection concluded that the service was still not good enough. It still takes too long for parents to get the assessments and the education and health care plans their children need. The plans themselves are often woolly or inadequate. In many cases the facilities do not exist to meet young people’s needs properly. This is particularly true for children and young people with mental health needs. Even where support does exist, too many parents are not being told how to access it.
I believe this is the first time any local authority has failed a second inspection of this sort. The County Council and the CCGs have had two years since the first inspection to overhaul SEND provision in Suffolk. There have been some improvements, but nowhere near enough. Hundreds of families with children and young people who needed additional help were not being listened to. Of the families who were getting nowhere with the authorities and who took their children’s cases to tribunal, around 90% have won their cases. That means that there must be 100s of families out there who have NOT gone to tribunal and whose children have suffered because their parents were unable to fight their way through the system. There needs to be a complete culture change – our County Council and our Health Service are meant to help us get the services we need, and parents shouldn’t have to fight to get the right care and education for their children. The structural improvements in management are unlikely to do much to make the service more responsive to parents. That’s why we need an independent review of SEND.
Last week I wrote about being ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’. However bad a child’s education might be, that does not force them to be a criminal, and most young people do not end up as criminals. But the number of young people falling into crime who do get an inadequate education – and especially those who are excluded from school – is out of all proportion to those who complete their education with reasonable results. The most important thing we could do to reduce the number of young people joining violent drugs gangs would be to reduce the number of school exclusions. But schools in Suffolk – and especially those in Ipswich – are under enormous financial pressures, and often cannot afford the sort of one-to-one counselling which students on the edge of exclusion may need.
Whatever the Government may say, there has been a £5.1 billion real-terms per-pupil cut in schools funding in the UK since 2015 and that translates into less school staff having less time to give our children and young people the support they need. In Ipswich, each pupil received an average of £4,934 in 2015 and will get an average of £4,619 this year – that’s more than £300 less per pupil. All Councillors are being asked to add their names to a letter to Damian Hinds, demanding the funds that our schools need, and I will support that demand in Parliament next week if I get the chance.
When pupils cannot attend their mainstream school, for whatever reason, the alternatives such as Pupil Referral Units are usually over-subscribed and under-resourced. I will be inviting a group of young people to Parliament next week to show them that people do care about their futures and that they need to have confidence in themselves – but it would be a whole lot easier to do that if we were making adequate resources available to help all our young people who feel they have less stake in society.
If we want a healthy, safe and productive future for our country we have got to put more respect, effort and resources into our children and young people. We need enough Children’s Centres to help close the social gaps for children right at the start of their lives – we need to open more of them, not close the ones we’ve already got. We need a coherent range of properly-financed schools, including Pupil Referral Units and Special Schools where necessary. And we need to ensure that when they leave school they are supported through training or further education and can get the qualifications and jobs they aspire to. If we can do that, I believe the crime rate will plummet.