Parents fear Southend SEND inquiry will not provide any accountability for years of failure

Parents who feel their children were let down by Southend Council’s special educational needs provision say they are being sidelined during an impending investigation.

Parents are being granted little more than an hour to make their case in the impending peer review.

Colin Nickless, who, with his wife, successfully battled the council in a tribunal for a special educational needs plan for his child, said: “Individual parents who have suffered are not being given the time to speak to the investigators alone.

“Parents groups are being given 1.5 hours to put over years of failures to the panel.

“The whole investigation is due to last four days, when it is supposed to be looking into years of tribunal cases, complaints, resource allocation panel decisions and casework.

“The fear for parents is that they will not be able to share their lived experiences, that the investigation will be a pat on the back process for the council, and once again there will be no accountability for failures.”

Mr Nickless added: “Many parents have complained about the actions of the team, at how their children have been denied support, of how parents have felt they are being blamed for failures involving their children and misrepresented by council employees.

“Many parents feel that in Southend, decisions involving vulnerable children and families with disabilities are made on monetary considerations rather than need.”

Julia Caro also recently won a tribunal against Southend Council over a plan for her autistic son.

Ms Caro, who lost an older son, Chris Nota, at the age of 19 after he fell from the Queensway Bridge in Southend last July, said: “Over the period of four days there will only be about an hour for the largest parent group to speak to the investigators.

“It’s not nearly enough.

“For this reason and because I do not believe my family tragedy should be a sideshow for me to have to recount in a crowd, I reasonably asked for a private meeting with the investigators, My request is being ignored.”

Laurie Burton, councillor responsible for education and children’s services, said: “Considerable work has taken place to make sure this review is carried out in a timely manner and covers everything we need it to.

“I hope the findings of the peer review will give us constructive feedback that we can use to strengthen the improvements we have already made and accelerate in areas where we need it.

“The team are expected to be on site for four days, carrying out their observations and investigations, including speaking with parent representatives and particular stakeholder groups, for the first three days and then spend a day feeding back their findings.

“The schedule has been worked out and agreed by myself, the shadow portfolio holder, council officers and the Local Government Association.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter