Central Bedfordshire Council sign

Parents plan to protest outside a public meeting next week (Tuesday, 7 September 2021) claiming a local authority is “catastrophically failing” their children with special educational needs and disability (SEND).

Placards will be displayed at Priory House in Chicksands, the headquarters of Central Bedfordshire Council, during what the campaigners are billing as “a noisy” demonstration.

The Central Bedfordshire SEND Action Group says 52 children are without a suitable school place for September 2021, with at least 148 on part-time timetables.

Their concerns also extend to what they label “legally worthless” education health care plans (EHCPs).

The council’s SEND provision has been in the spotlight after a critical 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.

The protest is due to take place ahead of a CBC children’s services overview and scrutiny committee meeting, which will be dominated by SEND issues.

Agenda items include special school place provision from September 2021, and a report on the recommendations of a SEND peer review by other local authorities in the region.

An update is due on the written statement of action, following a Department for Education monitoring visit, and there’s a report on the development of the local area SEND co-production charter.

Independent Biggleswade South councillor Hayley Whitaker has offered to act as spokesperson for the parents.

There’s been very little improvement in SEND services since the Ofsted report in November 2019,” she explained.

Although CBC talks of ‘green shoots’ of improvement, I think they’ve all but died now despite the council spending large sums of money on contractors and an audit of EHCPs.

The core issue at next week’s meeting will be about the lack of school places for children with SEND.

The Action Group knows of 52 children without school places in September 2021.

Some of these children have places in Easter or September 2022, but not all of them.

Until then these young people are expected to try and attend mainstream education.

Even with the extra support provided, this is usually unsuitable for most children that require a special school place,” she said.

A panel of experts established that a special school place is the only way these children will get a suitable education, but CBC is totally unable to provide sufficient places.

The children who don’t have special school places will end up on part-time timetables or even excluded.

Or else their parents will be expected to home school, which isn’t often the best solution for the child and is frequently unsuccessful. These children are losing many months and even years of education.

What we’re seeing is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, as many parents are reporting significant delays in finalising EHCPs over the summer months.

This means there’ll be even more children requiring special school places that we aren’t even aware of yet.”

A CBC spokeswoman said: “We’re aware of the planned protest and are in contact with the organisers to ensure that this can take place safely.

As a council we’re completely committed to developing a service that meets the needs of SEND children and their families, and that it’s a service of which we can be proud.

As with many other local authorities, we’re experiencing increasing demand for special school places.

We’re revising our forward plans to meet this growing demand to include a significant £6.5m capital investment for the creation of more than 100 SEND specialist places during the next three years.

An extra 59 places will be available from September 2021. We’re also working closely with our neighbouring councils to secure additional places where possible.”