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Open letters for Parents and Carers

Updates from Ros Somerville, Assistant Director for Inclusion at Suffolk County Council.

July 2022

Dear Parents/Carers, as I writewe are nearing the end of term, and what a term it has been.  As the academic year draws to a close, I wanted to write to you to update you again on our continued efforts to develop and improve services for children and young people with SEND and their families across Suffolk.  

Co-Production and Communication with Families 

Our commitment to co-produce and communicate with families remains at the heart of all we do. We continue to meet regularly with our official co-production partners Suffolk Parent Carer Forum and are grateful for all their hard work and commitment across the various projects they have been involved with this yearWe would like to take this opportunity to encourage all parent carers to get involved with and support SPCF – visit the SPCF website to find out more. 

Our Local Offer website has undergone a refresh this term, and now features new accessibility features, easier use on mobile devices and an improved search function, all of which we hope will make it easier for families to find the information they need. Thank you to all those parents and carers who worked with us on this. Do have a look around and let us know what you think – we are continually updating the site and we want it to be as useful as possible. 

We are launching an improved form to gather compliments, comments, and complaints from September. The data from these will be kept in one central “dashboard” area, to enable us to better see trends and identify areas for prioritisation going forwards. You will be able to access the form from this website - do check back in the new academic year and let us have your feedback. 

We have developed a model for teams to use in their conversations with families aimed at improving co-production. Called “Signs of Inclusion”, it follows a similar structure to the ‘Signs of Safety’ framework widely used within social care and encourages families to share their hopes for their children and the types of support they feel their child would benefit from. Following an initial six-week trial with Family Services staff, parent and carers reported feeling more confident in their child receiving the right support and more positively engaged with the service.  

Over this academic year we also offered more than 70 “Time to Listen” appointments for parents and carers to meet virtually with a range of senior leaders across the Suffolk SEND Partnership, including Education, Inclusion, Health and Social Care. Parent carers who responded to our feedback survey after their appointments reported that slots were easy to book, conversations were honest and open and that they felt listened to, and the senior leaders who participated also reported that the feedback was helpful and enabled them to move situations forwardWe want to keep these conversations going in the future and would welcome your feedback as we plan for next year. Did you attend one of these appointments? Did you hear about them at the time? Would you prefer online or in person, and who would you like to meet with? If you have any feedback for us, please do email localoffer@suffolk.gov.uk and we will take it into consideration. In addition, do keep an eye on the News section of the Local Offer website or on our social media posts for future dates and information. 

We are conscious that whilst we are increasing our team’s capacity families are still not always receiving the level of communication that we would like to offer from the services.  We are looking to introduce a new approach to this in September and will provide you with more detail nearer September.  

Supporting Inclusion in Schools 

As well as our statutory processes, we have continued to invest and develop in the ways in which we can support our schools to be inclusive by design” and resource them to support children with SEND at the earliest stages of intervention.  We have been working hard to support schools to undertake the Assess, Plan, Do, Review cycle in a person-centred way.  

Valuing SEND is an approach which provides schools with a standard way to assess needs across the 4 areas of SEND as set out in the SEND Code of Practice, with an added area of independence. Developed by our strategic partners IMPOWER, it aims to help families, teachers, SENCOs, and others to identify children’s needs and then identify evidence-based interventions that can meet that need. VSEND also supports schools to undertake a provision map for the setting and consider where they might have gaps such that they can address this for their school community.  We have completed some of the trial of Valuing SEND across one primary, one secondary and one Special School and one alternative provision in Suffolk. 30 pupils were assessed as part of this part of the trial, which saw SENCOs coming together on a weekly basis to share insights and ideas. Feedback has been encouraging, with SENCOs reporting that the system supported them to have positive discussions with wider school staff and families about what support could be put in place within their child’s current setting, better enablement of new teaching staff to understand SEND needs and what provision could look like, and in some cases, to enable discussion about whether a child’s needs would be better met in a different setting. We are encouraged by this and are continuing the trial across more settings currently.  We aim to have concluded the trail and analysed the outcomes before the start of next term. 

Building on the initial trial of the Inclusion Support Line, I am also pleased to announce that we have successfully recruited two advisors to enable us to extend our support offer to schools with the Inclusion Support Lineavailable all-day Monday-Friday, from September 2022. The Advisors will act as the first point of contact for schools with questions and queries about how to navigate the system and meet children’s needs.  The Advisors will be able to signpost them to the most appropriate resources and avenues of further assistance. We hope that this will enable us to respond to schools more quickly, and that this will in turn enable schools to feel confident in supporting the children within their communities. We have also developed a new ‘SENCO Central’ area on the Local Offer website, where SENCOs can go to read the latest SENCO bulletins, view the SENCO training calendar and download advice and guidance for key tasks throughout the year.  

Our Specialist Education Support Services, with specialist teams across many areas of SEND, are nearly at the end of their first complete year since their service redesignRather than needing to refer to each team individually, referrals now come in centrally and then the most appropriate team respond, reducing bureaucracy for schools and enabling us to respond more quickly. Schools can also book short Inclusion Support Meetings (ISMs) to get guidance from a specialist teacher, and more than 340 ISMs have been requested since January of this year. The newly created Whole School Inclusion team have also worked with around 80 schools this academic year to help them embed inclusive practice across the whole school community. Feedback from schools on the new service design have so far been positive and I am positive that this will enable schools to quickly meet a wider range of children’s needs at an earlier stage, leading to better outcomes all round. Find out more about the Specialist Education Services here. 

I would also like to offer an update following a review that has been carried out on Phase 1 of the SEND Capital Programme.  That is the programme that has created the additional special school places and extra unit places attached to mainstream schools.  As part of Phase 1, in the last three years Suffolk County Council have created 23 new specialist units attached to mainstream schools and 3 new special schools. Phase 1 has also enabled us to grow existing provision by adding additional capacity within our previous specialist units and special schools. It has been identified during this review that, despite the huge increase in places already being developed, more are required in order to meet the demand that we are currently seeing. Last month, Suffolk County Councillors who make up the Cabinet unanimously approved a further £10.6m in order for us to commence Phase 2 of this programme. As a result of this, I am delighted to report that Phase 2 will shortly be underway and will consist of the expansion of Castle EAST School to 120 places, and a further 3 new specialist units spread across the county, each offering at least 18 new places.   We continue to assess the need and we are already preparing the information to request a phase 3 of this programme 

Staffing and Recruitment 

When analysing our staffing capacity following last year’s Independent Review of SEND Services, it became apparent that there was too much work for the size of the team we had. Following a commitment from Suffolk County Council to provide an additional £1.1 million to address this, we have embarked on a wide-ranging recruitment campaign.  

One of the areas most affected by staffing shortages was our Family Services Team, who lead on the statutory assessment processes as part of an Education, Health and Care (EHC) needs assessment and reviews of EHC plans across the county. I am pleased to report that in additional to the new Head of SEND Services, a interim SEND Operations Manager and Family Services Managers for all three geographical areas, we are in the process of recruiting additional staff including lead coordinator, coordinators, assistant coordinators, Resolution and Tribunal officers (3 totally new roles aimed at working collaboratively with families to resolve difficulties and reduce the need for Tribunal appeals).  

In addition to the new colleagues joining us in Family Services, we are also recruiting a new Education Access Team working with schools to reduce exclusions and monitor and support with part-time timetables.  As mentioned above we have also recruited two Inclusion Support Line Advisors, a Communications and Engagement Officer, one new Educational Psychologist (we wanted more and are still advertising) and a Project Officer to support staff training. 

Statutory SEND Work 

We are continuing to experience staffing shortages in our Educational Psychology (EP) service, which is having an impact on our ability to complete Education, Health and Care needs assessments (EHCNAs) within the required 20 weeks. This is part of a nationwide shortage affecting many Local Authorities, and we continue to actively recruit whilst using Associate Educational Psychologists (locums) as much as we can.  We continue to look at other ways to utilise our internal EP workforce most effectively. 

We have also been focussing this term on improving the quality of our Education, Health and Care plans (EHCPs). With this in mind, we have delivered training for our Family Services teams on the writing of EHCPs, and our colleagues in Health have also delivered training to their staff on writing advice for ECHNAs and SEND decision making panels. 

We also have our Quality Assurance cycle in place to check and audit the quality of the advice we receive from schools and health and social care colleagues during the initial assessment process. The most recent report shows an improvement in the quality of advice, and we are confident that this will help us deliver higher quality EHCPs.  

We have also begun a project to move our records to a case management system called Liquid Logic. This system is already in use across other areas of the Council, and we are confident that it will help us to improve our case management and our communication with families and schools. 

Partnership Working 

We have continued to work closely with our colleagues across Health and Social Care this term to jointly improve outcomes for families. Some examples of this from recent months include the following. 

  • We have agreed to invest additional monies into Speech and Language Therapy, to enable provision to be standardised across the county and address gaps in our current provision. 

  • We have developed the links between education, social care, youth justice teams and schools to enable us to have a better understanding of how many pupils are currently on part-time timetables and what is being put in place to support them 

  • New referral pathways into the Children and Youth Mental Health Services and other mental health specialist teams are seeing increased service coverage across the county with a fall in waiting times 

  • Waiting times for non-urgent support from the Emotional Wellbeing Hub have reduced by over 55% since July 2021 ensuring we meet the 10-day response target, due in large part to our new collaboration with Barnardo’s. The new parent carer helpline, which can be accessed by phoning the Emotional Wellbeing Hub number, has already taken 1131 calls and of that number 956 were parents. 

  • We have made improvements to the East and West Suffolk Neurodevelopmental pathway, to try and ensure that families with concerns about Autism, ADHD and/or behaviours that challenge can get earlier support with or without a formal diagnosis. Find out more about this Pathway here.  

As you can hopefully see, we have had a busy few months.  We know that it will take time for the full impact of these improvements to be seen, and we are nowhere near finished in terms of accomplishing all that we intend to.  I hope this update serves to give you confidence that we are taking seriously our responsibility to improve. We remain committed to securing the very best future we can for all children and young people with SEND in Suffolk.  

I wish you all a very happy summer and look forward to working with many of you over the coming months. I anticipate that my next update will be at the end of the Autumn Term but if in the meantime you would like to give us any feedback, please do get in contact via localoffer@suffolk.gov.uk . 

Yours faithfully,

Ros Somerville 

Assistant Director, Inclusion 

April 2022

Dear Parent / Carer,

Following my last letter in January, I wanted to update you about our ongoing work to develop SEND services in Suffolk. We have been very busy working with our partners across Suffolk to make changes and improvements to services

Here are some of the actions and achievements since my last letter.

  • We have continued to recruit staff to vacant posts across Inclusion, including recruiting 13 officers to Family Services since January 2022, which includes 3 new Family Service Managers to the vacant posts.
  • We have extended the temporary contracts for our two data coordinators who continue to support us with refining our data records.
  • We have also extended the temporary contracts for our Advisory Teachers who are working with Family Services.
  • We had a new Educational Psychologist (EP) start with us in March and two new EPs due to start in September 2022, which will bring some much-needed capacity to the team.
  • The Family Services capacity review was completed by IMPOWER and indicated that if we are to continue to work in the same way with the same trajectory of need to support young people, we would need to recruit more than 20 new members of staff across Family Services.  This is addition to the recruitment we have already undertake and described above.  We have started to recruit in April 2022 using the £1.1million new investment.
  • IMPOWER are working with the Family Services team to support them in improving the quality of conversation they can have with parent/carers and children and young people with additional needs and disabilities.
  • We have changed course slightly with the SENCO support line, to build on the current SENCO support line offer which is already available to schools.  We are launching an Inclusion Support line, this will be available for all educational settings, colleagues in social care and health to contact for information, advice or guidance to support children and young people with SEND. These posts are currently being recruited to.
  • Leaders across the SEND Partnership met with the Department for Education (DfE) and NHS England to review progress against the written statement of action, the DfE noted that a tremendous amount of work had been undertaken although the impact of this is yet to be perceived by many parent/carers.  Link to DfE Letter
  • Time to Listen events were held in March giving senior Local Authority (LA) and Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) Officers the opportunity to hear directly from parent/carers.  We use the information from these sessions to help us cross reference that all our work will address any challenges faced by parents/carers.
  • Over 30 partners across Suffolk Parent Carer Forum (SPCF), Education, Social Care, Health, and Schools attended a Coproduction training event.  This was a really useful session to ensure we had a shared understanding of what coproduction means and how we can productively work together.
  • Valuing SEND, a new tool for Suffolk schools to use to support accurate identification of needs and matching that to evidence based provision to meet needs, is being trialled.
  • A new member of staff has been appointed in the Work Force Development team to lead in the development of training and induction for staff across Inclusion Services.  This will include a review of the current induction training for Family Services with a view to move to online training programme for staff.
  • Training for LA and CCG colleagues involved in SEND Decision Making Panels has been delivered in April.
  • 82% of phased transfers were completed by the statutory deadline of 15 February and 32% of phased transfers for post 16 were completed by the statutory deadline of 31 March. We know more work is needed to improve annual reviews and phased transfer cohorts – and we are exploring further options of support. This was an improvement on last year. 

Next Steps

Our next steps during the summer term are:

  • Understand the feedback from schools on the Valuing SEND trial and look at what has worked well and what might need to change
  • Finalise the SEND Decision making panel process and ensure membership from Social Care, Health and schools.
  • Continue to recruit to new posts across Inclusion from the £1.1million investment by SCC.
  • Reflect on the training received to improve conversation with families and look at how we can further improve or change
  • Soft Launch of the Inclusion Support Line and introduction of the new advisors
  • Continue to improve statutory time scales.  Whilst improvement was seen for 15 February deadline, we did not see any improvement for the 31 March deadline.

Other News

  • The SEND and Alternative Provision green paper has been published, we will be discussing with partners across SEND what the collective view on the suggestions on the changes needed to the system and we will respond to the consultation.
  • Officers from the Local Authority will be joining SPCF in May for an Open Event to meet parent/carers.

If you would like to be kept up to date with our progress and with future developments of SEND in Suffolk, you can:

We anticipate that our next update will be published at the end of July 2022. If you have any questions about the review in the meantime, you can email us at sendreview@suffolk.gov.uk.

Yours faithfully

Ros Somerville

Assistant Director, Inclusion, Children & Young People’s Directorate, Suffolk County Council

January 2022
Dear Parent / Carer,

Following my last letter in November, I wanted to update you about our ongoing work to address SEND services in Suffolk.   A lot of the work and plans we set out in the Autumn term will come to fruition in the Spring term and beyond, we are continuing to plan for our next steps as well.  

Here are some of the actions and achievements since my last letter.

  • Several significant appointments have been made across the SEND Services including that of Suffolk’s first Designated Social Care Officer. This role will be pivotal in building stronger working relationships between Social Care and the other partners. We are also delighted that our colleagues in North East Essex and Suffolk NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) have appointed a new Designated Clinical Officer, to further develop and integrate work between Health and the other SEND partners.  Both post holders started this month.
  • Our new Head of SEND, Francesca Alexander has joined Inclusion this week. Francesca brings a wealth of experience to her role and will ably lead our SCC Family Service Teams forwards into our new ways of working.
  • We have recruited two data co-ordinators who are working to improve our data records.
  • Colleagues across the Children and Young People Directorate have been redeployed to assist in processing Phase Transfer Reviews.
  • We have appointed one new Educational Psychologist, with recruitment currently live for two more vacancies
  • We have several significant appointments still to make and are pleased with the wide field of applicants.
  • Our strategic partner IMPOWER have undertaken several multi-agency case reviews to help all parties understand what has worked well, identify where gaps or weakness occurred, and to embed the learning from these to future practice.
  • We are currently recruiting for staff to launch the expanded SENCO Support Line at the beginning of February.  This will add more support for schools and settings with early intervention and help to sign-post them to additional support when this is needed.
  • The Family Services capacity review is being finalised by IMPOWER and has indicated where we need to recruit more staff to support the SEND statutory processes.
  • A request for a further investment of £1.1million has been made to Cabinet for Inclusion Services from April 2022 and has received support from all political parties.
  • Leaders across the SEND Partnership met with Suffolk Cabinet Members at the recent Education and Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee.
  • A formal Data Protection agreement has been put in place between the Local Authority and the NHS CCGs to enable us to work together and share information more efficiently.
  • 16 time to listen events were held in November giving parent/carers the opportunity to meet with senior leaders across the SEND Services to share their experiences and ask questions.
  • The Integrated Action Plan developed by IMPOWER has been published on the Local Offer website. Integrated Action Plan
  • Coproduction has started with Suffolk Parent Carer Forum., including representation at the SEND Accountability Board.

 

Next Steps

Our next steps during the Spring term are:

  • Continue to develop and embed our partnership working practices. During February we are running a co-production training event, to ensure all key partners understand and adhere to the fundamental principles of co-production.
  • Trial “Valuing SEND” - a new approach to considering Children and Young People’s needs and how settings meet them, developed by IMPOWER. This will be being trialled within three education settings over the next few months.
  • Review the findings from the Family Services Capacity Analysis, to consider what further action is needed.
  • Review the results of the training needs analysis undertaken within Family Services against the training offer currently available, to develop and strengthen our skills in this area.
  • Start the training regarding the strength-based conversations which will support coproduction at an individual child and family level as part of the Education, Health and Care needs assessment.

Other News

  • The Department for Education (DfE) will be holding a remote review meeting of SEND Services in Suffolk. Preparation is currently underway to update them on our progress, challenges and next steps, and feedback from this meeting will be published on our Local Offer website in due course.
  • Suffolk Parent Carer Forum (SPCF) - Formal Launch: We are delighted to share that SPCF are holding their formal launch event online on Tuesday 1st February between 10am-1pm. They invite any who would like to join them to find out more about what they will be doing, and you can find out more about this event here: SCPF Launch.

If you would like to be kept up to date with our progress and with future developments of SEND in Suffolk, you can:

We anticipate that our next update will be published in April 2022. If you have any questions about the review in the meantime, you can email us at sendreview@suffolk.gov.uk.

Yours faithfully

 

Ros Somerville

Assistant Director, Inclusion, Children & Young People’s Directorate, Suffolk County Council

November 2021

Dear Parent / Carer

It has been two months since we published the findings of the Lincolnshire Independent Review into SEND Services in Suffolk.  I am mindful that one of the things we must do is communicate better with you as families, and so what follows is a short update on what we have done so far and what our next steps will be.

Over the last two months, we have undertaken the following actions.

  • We have appointed IMPOWER to work in partnership with us, to support to implement the recommendations. IMPOWER are an independent company experienced with working with the public sector to improve service outcomes. You can find out more about IMPOWER on their website;
  • We are working with IMPOWER, and parent carers on an Integrated Delivery Plan detailing how we plan to meet the review’s recommendations and set out the timescales for our actions. This work is ongoing, and when the plan is ready, we will share it with you.
  • We are recruiting additional staff to our Family Services teams at both management and support officer levels. This will take some time yet to complete and is proving more difficult than we would like. However, it is vital that we continue to increase the overall size of our team to manage the volume of work.
  • We are recruiting additional Educational Psychologists to the team.
  • We are redesigning our decision-making panels, including our Specialist Education Panel (SEP). This work is being coproduced across the SEND system with social care, education, health, and parent/carer representatives.
  • We have provided training on SEND Decision Making and the Law which was attended by over 100 members of staff. This session was based on training from the Independent Provider of Special Educational Advice (IPSEA). A further session is planned for later in November.
  • We have completed a review of the system we use to hold all our data about children and young people with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans. We now have an improved system that will track which annual reviews have been received and which have not been received such that we can ensure we take appropriate action.  This review has also identified how we can use the system to help us to work as efficiently as possible.
  • We have employed time from an additional SEND Specialist Solicitor, to help us as we analyse our current processes and working practices against the SEND Code of Practice (2015) and look to develop new processes in- line with the review recommendations.

In addition, I am delighted to be able to bring you news of the new Suffolk Parent Carer Forum, which will become our formal coproduction partner for SEND. The Management Board of the Forum are in place; they are currently recruiting and training new members and we anticipate them being fully up and running by the new year. I would like to thank those of you who have worked so hard and so quickly to get the new forum in place and I should like to encourage you all to join the forum to support and strengthen it with your voices and experience. You can find out more about the forum by visiting their Facebook page Suffolk Parent Carer Forum.

Next Steps

There is much work still to do and a lot is planned. Our immediate next steps are to:

  • agree and publish our Integrated Delivery Plan, with a list of actions to be taken against each review recommendation and anticipated timescales;
  • provide a detailed report to Education & Children Services Scrutiny Committee on progress, next steps and evidence our improvements on 9 December 2021;
  • complete a more detailed analysis of the volume of work and check we have enough staff in the right places to complete the work.
  • develop our processes to ensure that we improve coproduction at the individual child level as part of an EHC needs assessment;
  • complete a staff training needs analysis to identify and address any gaps in knowledge.

If you would like to be kept up to date with our progress and with future developments of SEND in Suffolk, you can:

We anticipate that our next update will be published in January 2022. If you have any questions about the review in the meantime, you can email us at sendreview@suffolk.gov.uk.

Your faithfully

Ros Somerville

Assistant Director, Inclusion, Children & Young People’s Directorate, Suffolk County Council

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