Call for independent investigation into special education needs provision in Southend

Southend Tories have called for an independent probe into care and support for children with special educational needs following a catalogue of complaints from parents.

Southend Council’s Conservative group has called for an urgent meeting to consider calls for the independent investigation after parents say the service is failing their children.

The call was backed by Independent councillor Ron Woodley, deputy leader of Southend Council.

Ofsted recently reported improvements to the service had been made following a damning inspection in 2018 which highlighted “significant weaknesses” in the service.

Nevertheless, families fighting to get the education their children need, often against insurmountable odds, say youngsters are still being failed.

Educational health care plans and diagnoses of mental health problems can take years to achieve and some families find their own parenting skills called into question during the lengthy process.

Councillor Tony Cox, leader of the Conservative group, who has a daughter with special educational needs, said: “We called for this before but it was dismissed out of hand. There are a whole raft of issues including education health and care plans not being adhered to.

“Southend is rated one of the worst local authorities in terms of educational health care plans.

“There are some families telling me they are too frightened to ask for help because they might get their children taken away. It takes a lot for families to come forward and say they need help and then they have suspicions cast on them. The whole system needs ripping up and starting again.”

Julia Hopper has been campaigning for an investigation into SEND services. Thursday will see the anniversary of the death of her son Chris Nota, who died at the age of 19 after falling from the Queensway Bridge in Southend last July.

She said: “We are delighted that they have taken this issue seriously since it has been the literal destruction of too many of our children and remains so. Anyone who has followed us will know that there is a brick wall of 1950s style wilful ignorance where families have found themselves in the firing line while their disabled children suffer openly beyond measure.”

Ms Hopper added: “As a group we have exhausted all methods of redress with our local authority and clinical commissioning group and we have been stonewalled by the administration, apart from Laurie Burton, to tragic effect.

“We have seen immense suffering and we won’t ever give up until these children enjoy the basic statutory services under the law. Of all issues, this ought to be our top priority and not to have been a dirty disgraceful secret. There’s no logical reason why anyone would want to oppose this motion.”

Cllr Woodley said: “I think we should have an independent inquiry. I know we have had Ofsted come in and three out four areas are improving but it would be a wise move to an independent review to make sure we are on track to improve services.

“We should make sure we have a complete review but I have no objection to it.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter