April 2023 Open letter from Ros Somerville
As I write, the sun is breaking through, and it brings with it the hopefulness of Spring. It feels fitting - we have been working hard over the winter to deliver the recommendations of our Integrated SEND Action Plan and whilst we are not there yet, I believe we are beginning to see the green shoots of progress, some of which I would like to update you on below.
1. Improving the Statutory SEND Journey in Suffolk
SEND Family Services
We continue to recruit to our SEND Family Services teams, to increase our capacity and enable us to respond to families in a timely way. In addition to our new permanent officers, we have also recruited five temporary officers, enabling us to create a dedicated Education, Health and Care (EHC) Needs Assessment Team and an Annual Review Team. We have also added to our Business Support and Customer First teams to enable email and telephone enquiries to be responded to more promptly.
I can report that we issued 93% of Phase Transfer EHC plans on time this year (by 15 February 2023); helping many more children to have a smoother transition into their next phase of education. As high priority, we are working with the small number of families where ongoing placements have not yet been agreed. Our Phase Transfer for post 16 EHC plans that were issued on time (by 31 March 2023) is 53.5%. Whilst this is an improvement on last year’s figure of 32%, we know we need to make it 100% and will continue to work at this.
Our new EHC Portal launched at the start of April. Based in a system called Liquid Logic, you will be able to log on to the portal, check the progress of your child’s EHC needs assessment and correspond directly with your named Family Services Officer, which we are confident will improve both the timeliness and consistency of our communication with families.
Local Offer Website
In response to feedback from families and practitioners about our current Local Offer website which told us that it remained difficult to navigate, we have secured agreement to move the website to a new and improved platform. Work on this project has begun, and we would welcome your involvement in reviewing our current content and shaping the website for the future.
Our SEND Capital Programme refers to our plans to build new specialist schools and units across Suffolk. Phase 2 of the programme sees the creation of three new Cognition & Learning Units across the North, South and West of the county, while Phase 3 will see a further eight specialist units opening across the county supporting children with a range of needs.
We have also been given grant funding from the Department for Education (DfE) to build a new special free school to support children with Severe Learning Difficulties in the East of Suffolk. The exact location is still to be confirmed, although we are aiming for somewhere between Ipswich and Lowestoft. I will, of course, keep you updated in my next letter in the summer term.
2. Increasing Inclusive Practice in Suffolk
Specialist Education Services
Our Specialist Education Services are moving from a “referral based” model (where schools refer individual pupils) to a “locality based” model – this means that from 2024, every school in Suffolk will get a termly visit from a Specialist Teacher who will be able to advise on any SEND-related issues. They will also develop “communities of schools” in each area, including specialist teachers and professionals from Health, Social Care and Education, to enable schools to discuss local challenges, share good practice and support one another. This will enable the team to support many more settings across Suffolk, and we are excited about the impact we anticipate this having across the whole county.
Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA)
I am delighted to be able to tell you that following a successful bidding process, we have been awarded one year’s additional funding from the Department for Education (DfE) to support children and young people who are not accessing fulltime education due to Emotionally Based School Avoidance. This funding will be used to offer daytime activities to eligible young people, with the aim of identifying and reducing the barriers to education they are facing. The set up for this project is still ongoing, and we will share more details in due course.
Delivering Better Value
We have also received funding from the DfE for the creation of a support team of Assistant Psychologists and Specialist Teachers who will work with schools to help them consider the right interventions and approaches for individual children and provide training to school staff both in these interventions and in how to work effectively with families in implementing them.
Valuing SEND (VSEND)
VSEND is part of the “Suffolk Inclusion Toolkit” – an online SEND assessment tool that we have made available to all schools in Suffolk. It helps schools plot a rounded picture of children’s needs and of the support they require. It gives prompts and guides to help schools work collaboratively with families in identifying both the needs and strengths of children and young people. Over 169 schools have received training on VSEND to date; and it continues to be rolled out across schools, with Early Years and Post 16 settings being offered it from September 2023. This work aims to support earlier identification of needs and subsequent interventions.
3. Learning from the Lived Experience of Families in Suffolk
Time To Listen
We continue to offer families the opportunity to meet with senior leaders across the Suffolk SEND Partnership as part of our Time To Listen events. We have added two new leaders to the events this year – Seb Smith, Assistant Director for MASH (the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub), Early Help, QEPD (Quality, Engagement and Professional Development), Safeguarding and Resources, and Codrutza Oros-Marsh, Assistant Director for Children’s Social Care, Corporate Parenting, Youth Justice and Strategic Commissioning.
We have also planned some virtual Time To Listen sessions for children and young people with SEND to meet with myself and with Allan Cadzow, our Director.
These online conversations are so important to us in our efforts to hear from families about their experiences and I would encourage you to consider booking one if you haven’t already done so.
Suffolk Parent Carer Forum
We continue to work in partnership with our colleagues at the Suffolk Parent Carer Forum (SPCF), and I would like to personally thank them for all their hard work and support. SPCF recently undertook a parent carer feedback survey and we are working with them to understand the results and look at how our current improvement plans will address the ongoing areas for development.
New Framework for the Local Area Review (Ofsted and CQC Inspection)
A new Framework for inspection of SEND Services has been published by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission. Area SEND inspections: framework and handbook - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
All our work across the partnership is about improving systems, services and outcome for children and young people. We are reviewing what the inspectors will want to see when they arrive. They could call anytime, and we will keep you updated. Once they do arrive you will have the opportunity to have your say through a survey which we will circulate.
As I have previously said, whilst it will take time for the full impact of all of our actions to be felt by more people, I hope you can see that we take seriously our responsibility to continually improve outcomes for all children and young people with SEND in Suffolk.
I look forward to meeting with some of you over the coming months. I anticipate that my next update will be at the end of the Summer Term but if in the meantime you would like to give us any feedback, please do get in contact via firstname.lastname@example.org .
Assistant Director, Inclusion
Suffolk County Council