Concerns over special needs services in Portsmouth after councillors' meeting with 'anguished' parents
COUNCILLORS are calling for a review into special needs services in the city after ‘anguished’ families branded parts of them ‘woeful’.
During an education, children and young people scrutiny panel last night (Jan 30) politicians described their 'upset' following a meeting with about 25 parents of special educational needs or disability (Send) children.
Councillor Jeanette Smith, of the Progressive Portsmouth People group, and Tory Cllr Frank Jonas attended a Portsmouth Parent Voice gathering in November to hear feedback from families.
Speaking to the scrutiny panel Cllr Smith said: 'I have to say it was one of the hardest meetings I have ever attended.
'There were lots of tears and anguish because they just had nowhere to go and didn't feel supported by anyone.
'The issues raised included how they weren't getting phone calls back and they didn't feel included in how services interacted with them.
'If their children attend mainstream schools often they get sent home almost on a once-a-week basis because they can't deal with them. That's difficult for parents if they're working or for some of them it's their only respite.
'Primary school seems OK. Secondary is woeful.'
Cllr Jonas agreed. 'It seemed that we fell down at everything they mentioned, it was very very upsetting,' he said.
But officers referred to an Ofsted and Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection in July last year that was 'one of the best in the country.'
Julia Katherine, the council's head of inclusion, said: 'In July 2019 we were inspected by Ofsted and the CQC and it's been recognised as one of the best in the country for Send.
'I don't recognise the picture you are painting.
'Ofsted met with 60 parents and over 150 parents responded to our survey.'
The Parent Voice meeting came just after it was revealed the council could be limiting the use of its pre-paid card - which provide cash for respite and activities for Send families. Recently the council's education boss, Councillor Suzy Horton, refused to make those changes.
Cllr Smith commented: 'I am glad that the pre-paid cards decision was overturned because of the anguish that gave.
'Something might have upset that group but when they were asked what Portsmouth City Council does well there was silence.
'They did suggest that the council work with parents to discuss how money is spent.
'I came away feeling very disappointed that we had failed them.
Cllr Jonas added: 'At the end of the day we are here to make recommendations and not turn up at a meeting and to find not one person was happy, I have not been in that position before.
'I'd like to think something will come out of this.'
Members of the scrutiny panel agreed to meet again to discuss the subject once more information could be gathered and to involve Cllr Horton in the conversation.