Sutton’s failing SEND service looks set to get an early return visit from the inspectors of Ofsted, this time accompanied by officials from the Care Quality Commission.
At least, that’s what Theresa Mayhem, the lame duck Prime Minister, indicated yesterday at Westminster, in response to a question from Sutton and Cheam’s Tory MP Paul Scully.
With more than a suspicion of his playing his constituency’s SEND crisis for political advantage, Scully accused Sutton’s LibDem-controlled council of a “lack of leadership and mismanagement” in their provision for children and young adults with special educational needs and disabilities – SEND.
As Inside Sutton reported exclusively last week, families with SEND children have accused their council of having a deliberate and unlawful policy of blocking their applications for EHCPs – education, health and care plans – which are submitted in order to access schools and other essential services.
Sutton has one of the highest levels of SEND funding per capita in the country. Yet it also somehow manages to reject three times the national average of applications for EHCPs.
The high refusal rate sees many Sutton families taking the council’s decision to tribunal, where 87 per cent of cases are won by parents. This, though, according to one of the council’s senior staffers, is only because the judges don’t understand the law.
Sutton’s SEND department was rated “inadequate” by Ofsted inspectors in March 2018, and as Inside Sutton reported last week, the council is already behind its own timetable for implementing improvements to its practices and management.
Scully’s question at PMQs drew a response from May that strongly suggested that Whitehall may be about to step in with Sutton and put their SEND operation into a form of special measures, a profound vote of no-confidence in the running of the council under LibDem leader Ruth Dombey.
After Scully put his question at PMQs, an unusually well-briefed May said, “It is vital that all children with special educational needs receive the support they need. I have been assured that the council will receive the right support. The Department for Education and NHS England have been working closely with the local authority to ensure that the necessary changes take place, and they will continue to do so.
“My honourable friend talks about funding. This year, Sutton’s high needs funding allocation has been increased. I understand that Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission will revisit Sutton to ensure that the council is improving its support for children with special educational needs, so that those children can fulfil their potential.”
Since the failed Ofsted inspection 15 months ago, none of Dombey’s councillors or cabinet members has resigned over the issue, although Wendy Mathys, who had been chair of the committee responsible for SEND, lost her council seat in the May 2018 local elections.
Scully’s question in the House has prompted new calls for the resignation of Jenny Batt, the LibDem councillor who now oversees SEND matters.
Such a set-back in Batt’s political career might not see any immediate improvements in Sutton’s SEND provision, though it might assist Scully in any future parliamentary election.
Because Batt is being lined up as the prospective LibDem parliamentary candidate for Sutton and Cheam, the seat Scully won for the Tories from the Liberal Democrats in 2015. If she is sacked or forced to resign over such a touchstone issue, it is sure to feature on future Tory leaflets around the borough.
- ‘Families are at breaking point as a result’ of Sutton Council’s action – read the devastating letter from a parents’ campaign group demanding action from Ruth Dombey
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