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Criticism has been directed at Central Bedfordshire Council officers and executive members for failing to speak to parents protesting ahead of a committee meeting about special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision.

Parents with placards staged a noisy protest outside CBC’s Chicksands headquarters today (7 September 2021) to highlight their concerns about a range of SEND issues.

The council’s SEND provision was criticised by an Ofsted and Care Quality Commission (CQC) report in November 2019.

Their inspection found “significant areas of weakness in the local practice“, and called for a written statement of action from CBC and BLMK Clinical Commissioning Group.

Special school place provision and feedback from a SEND peer review by other local authorities in the region were among items being discussed by the council’s children’s services overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday (7 September).

Labour Parkside councillor Antonia Ryan described it as “an embarrassment to be addressed by the parents time and time again“.

She asked where was the director of children’s services Sue Harrison, who was unable to attend through illness.

Nobody came out from the officers to address this protest,” said councillor Ryan. “How embarrassing is that? This has been going on too long.

It’s the lack of strategic planning and imagination on your behalf that has allowed this to happen.

There are 52 children without a school place and that sits on your shoulders. I would have gone round to every parent who was waiting outside today to apologise.”

Independent Biggleswade South councillor Hayley Whitaker agreed, addressing her response to deputy council leader and executive member for families, education and children Sue Clark.

If you want to talk to parents and find out what the real issues are they were standing outside from 9am-10am today, and would have been happy to talk the entire length of that time,” explained councillor Whitaker.

Councillor Dodwell (who’s the deputy executive member for families, education and children) might have joined you, but apparently she was too busy having her breakfast.

Education health and care plans (EHCPs) are rising because at last we’re meeting our legal requirements to do these, which we weren’t doing before.

That’s the reality of the situation. Parents are having to fight every step of the way to get what their children deserve legally.

Schools are having to fight this council every step of the way to help their pupils.

The staff turnover is incredibly high. People don’t leave good jobs, they leave bad managers. You’re repeatedly defending the indefensible.”

Deputy director of children services Sarah Ferguson replied: “We’ve talked about the arrangements that the strategic planning is where it needs to be to ensure there are good forecasts about the number of places we need.

We’ve acknowledged at this point we’re at a place where we don’t want to be and we’re going to correct it and deliver change in the short, medium and long-term. We’re committed to doing that.

We’re absolutely working alongside our parents to make sure we provide what children need to enable them to receive the education they require while waiting for their special school places, as well as wider support such as therapies and other support.”

Councillor Clark said: “Officers have been extremely honest about the position we’re in.

They’re very much listening to what the parents are saying. We know there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Unfortunately transforming a service doesn’t happen quickly. I’m happy to meet any parent anywhere and support them as best as I’m able.”