Inaccuracies in a Central Bedfordshire Council consultation document on special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) led to the process having to start again, a meeting heard.
Parents played a valuable role in highlighting the issue and in reshaping the wording, its children’s services overview and scrutiny committee was told.
The ‘have your say’ consultation on the future provision of special schools and additional resource provisions (ARPs) within Central Bedfordshire will now run until 8 July.
A decision was taken to pause the consultation in March, after inconsistencies were found in its content, according to a report to the committee.
“A table presenting plans for ARPs was confusing and may have lead people to misrepresent their opinions through a questionnaire,” it said.
“We received feedback, which subsequent checks also revealed, that the number of proposed ARP places listed was 72 when the plan is to increase this figure by 80.
“Both the questionnaire and its supporting consultation document have been revised.”
Under its Schools for the Future programme, the local authority plans to offer more school-based SEND provision.
This would include early years capacity on school sites and school-based post 16 provision, explained the report.
“The consultation is the first part of the required process for changes to the organisation of special schools and ARPs.
“It provides an opportunity for all stakeholders to share their views on proposals to increase provision.
“The council wants to wherever possible support young people in their mainstream schools.
“For children and young people with more complex needs sufficient special school places need to be provided.”
Deputy director of children’s services Sarah Ferguson admitted there were some inaccuracies in the first consultation, saying: “It was agreed to relaunch the consultation just after the Easter holidays and extend it for another 12 weeks.
“It gave us the chance to work with our parent carer forum SNAP and directly with parents to identify those issues and review where we needed to make changes to clarify the situation.
“We’ve received about 150 responses to the new consultation. We recognise it’s a technical and complex consultation document. and we’re anxious to get as wide a range of community input as possible.
“For mainstream schools there’s a commitment to look at the use of multi-agency space as part of the offer to children and young people.”
Parent governor representative Lorraine King, who chairs Aspley Guise Lower School governing body, warned against a “discrepancy of timelines” over trying to provide such space while decisions are still to be made on the future of some schools which might merge or relocate.
“How will the council ensure that provision is put in for those children, but knowing some schools will close as part of the overall programme?” she asked.
Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Sue Clark said: “I don’t think we’ve made any commitments to close any schools at this moment in time.
“There are some which are going to move location, but that’s different.”
Ms King apologised saying: “I wasn’t clear. There are clusters in Central Bedfordshire where no decisions whatsoever have been made.
“I used the word close … relocate, merge, there are things which may happen in the future.
“We’re operating on a three-tier system. We’re moving to a two-tier. I’m not suggesting the decision’s been made to close schools.”
Councillor Clark, who’s the executive member for families, education and children, replied: “That point would apply not just to SEND, but any requirements, whether extra classroom places were needed now.“