Southend SEND review fails to go far enough claim

There is a special educational needs “crisis” in Southend with a review of children’s services in the borough “failing to go far enough”, a councillor has claimed.

Councillors ordered the peer review by children’s services representatives from other high performing local authorities following a barrage of complaints by parents, particularly about their struggles to get Education Health Care Plans (EHCP) for their children.

The review also comes in the wake of a disastrous handover of school transport for children with special educational needs which saw youngsters left stranded when vehicles failed to turn up.

Parents who took part in the peer review raised major concerns their voices were not heard, while Jennifer Beck, non-aligned councillor for the Victoria ward, backed up those concerns after attending the review last week.

She said: “The peer review is a step in the right direction. I think it’s important to note, however, that a meeting without an agenda can make it weak in pinpointing the area as where the council needs to improve.

“The subject of school transport was not raised. Given the high profile events of the chaos in September, I would have expected to be discussing what went wrong and how it’s being improved.

“I raised my concerns about delays in assessments for children, particularly with regard to attention deficit disorders and autism and in mainstream schools. I hear from residents that they’re experience of the “system” is extremely frustrating and takes a long time.”

Parents called for further action to be taken following the review, which ended on Friday, with Ms Beck also insisting that more must be done.

She added: “I think the council needs more than a peer review. If we are truly to put children first, then the advocacy work provided by charities supporting families’ needs to be offered by the council. It is for families who pass a threshold or meet specific criteria but not for everyone. Dealing with the multiple agencies and organisations would be much easier for these families with a single point of contact to assist.

“I believe we have a special educational needs and mental health crisis in Southend and the council should be expanding services and employing more specialists in these fields.”

A council spokesperson said: “The independent peer review was arranged by the council and undertaken by the Local Government Association (LGA). The scope of the peer review was agreed by cross-party councillors and covered a range of relevant topics and included a variety of relevant stakeholders. To ensure focus and with other reviews already agreed related to home to school transport, it was agreed not to include this topic in the peer review.

“This review took place last week and the LGA are now compiling their feedback and findings ahead of the publication of a report. It would not be appropriate to comment any further ahead of the publication of that report.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter