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New Cabinet member to drive Devon special needs improvement

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Devon’s continuing drive to improve its services for children with special educational needs and disabilities is getting a new champion.

Our council leader John Hart has promoted Okehampton Rural councillor Lois Samuel to the Cabinet with the lead responsibility of improving SEND services.

It means Exeter councillor Andrew Leadbetter will retain his Cabinet responsibility for education, schools and social care but the massive children’s services brief will now be shared politically between him and Lois Samuel.

The latest report on Devon’s children’s services by the watchdog, Ofsted, said there had been real improvements in the service but there was still more work to be done.

Councillor Hart said:

“The children’s services’ brief encompasses responsibility for a huge range of services for Devon’s young people.

“As we continue the drive to improve our children’s services across the board, I have decided it’s important to shine a laser focus on our work with some of our most vulnerable children who have real physical, mental and emotional difficulties.

“We’ve recently appointed a new Director of Children’s Services, Stuart Collins, a deputy Director of Children’s Services Social Work, Becky Hopkins, and we’ve seconded Kellie Knott from the Department of Education to lead on SEND.

“With these new appointments, it’s now the right time to split children’s services so that Andrew will look after schools, education and social care and I have asked Lois Samuel to join the Cabinet and work with Andrew by taking responsibility for SEND.

“Lois already has a good understanding of what we are trying to do from her membership of our Children’s Scrutiny committee.”

Lois Samuel was elected to the county council in May 2021 and has been a member of the Children’s Scrutiny committee and vice-chair of the Standards Committee. She is a member of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board and the Board’s Champion on Domestic Abuse.

Outside of politics, her previous experience has included running a charity with her husband Ben at their dairy and poultry farm which has provided supported accommodation helping vulnerable adults.

Lois Samuel has previously been a West Devon borough councillor where she held the portfolio for health and wellbeing for two years and was deputy leader for four years.

She said:

“l am delighted to have been asked to take on this important role and to help strengthen and build on the improvements that have already been made in our services for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

“For over 20 years I have been managing a charity based on our family farm that has helped many vulnerable adults and their families and I will bring this experience into the new job.

“I am also looking forward to meeting the children we serve and their families and hearing directly from them how we can get better.”

Andrew Leadbetter said:

“I welcome the appointment of Lois Samuel to strengthen our team and I look forward to working with her.

“SEND is a massive challenge but one that we are determined to work together to get right.”