A planned increase in special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision in Central Bedfordshire has to tackle parental concerns, a meeting was told.
“Very little has changed“, SEND parent Amy Ivins, from Dunstable, warned Central Bedfordshire Council’s children’s services overview and scrutiny committee.
“While CBC implement new school places, where are the safeguarding measures to protect the children made to feel so worthless by this system that they talk about and even attempt suicide or self-harm?” she asked.
The local authority is targeting SEND improvements after a critical Ofsted/Care Quality Commission inspection.
A written statement of action was required from the council and the BLMK Clinical Commissioning Group.
Under CBC’s Schools for the Future programme extra SEND places are due to be provided at special schools and in mainstream education, with a consultation process in progress.
“The consultation should be a step in the right direction,” said Ms Ivins. “But it’s misleading with many questions being open to interpretation.
“The capacity of upper and middle school provisions, have both been categorised under secondary schools.
“This implies there are provisions to cover all secondary aged children in these clusters, when actually the places only go through to the end of middle school.”
She highlighted inconsistency in the questionnaire with residents not asked in the special school section whether they think the number of places is adequate.
“Councillors need to be given the raw data from this consultation, including every comment made,” she explained.
“Moving on to the actual plans for new places, the methodology for forecasting is unrealistic.
“Most of the places you’re planning won’t come to fruition for several years, yet could easily be filled today, if CBC was fulfilling its legal obligations towards our children.”
In a recent Central Bedfordshire SEND Action Group poll 57 parents out of around 350 stated that their child lacks the school placement they need, Ms Ivins told the committee.
“Most of these require either a special school or a mainstream autism provision,” she added.
“Imagine if we scaled that poll up and asked all 7,000 SEND families the same question, not to mention all the families fighting to have their children’s needs recognised.
“We’re talking about hundreds of children suffering in mainstream schools, or being forced to home educate or being fobbed off with minimal ‘education otherwise’ packages.
“These often amount to little more than a laptop, a couple of hours a week of tuition and some horse therapy.
“I’m begging councillors and officers to ensure that all new specialist provisions are closely monitored, and that staff are properly trained and supported, so that all children in our community have the safe and meaningful education they deserve.”
Ms Ivins spoke to the committee previously about the shortage of SEND school places and the crisis that special needs families were facing.
“Sadly, I could just read the same statement I made last year, because for SEND families, very little has changed.”
A CBC spokesman said: “Through the Schools for the Future programme, we’ve proposed increases to the educational support and provision for children and young people identified with SEND, in our four special schools and mainstream schools.
“We want to hear comments on the proposals, which is why we’re consulting.
“The 12-week process is open until July 8 and we’d urge people to help shape these plans.
“No decisions have been made yet, but we value Ms Ivins’ contribution and we’ll consider her concerns as part of the consultation feedback.”
Deputy director of children’s services Sarah Ferguson said during the meeting: “Some of the issues Amy has raised are some of the ones we hope will get picked up during the SEND consultation process.”