SEND education: 52 children in Central Bedfordshire without specialist school places for start of next term

A parent action group submitted a 378-signature petition to Central Bedfordshire Council’s executive

Monday, 9th August 2021, 2:30 pm
Updated Monday, 9th August 2021, 2:32 pm

A parent action group submitted a 378-signature petition to Central Bedfordshire Council’s executive after it became aware of 22 children affected by a lack of suitable specialist places.

The Central Bedfordshire SEND action group called for an extraordinary meeting of CBC’s children’s services overview and scrutiny committee to address the issue.

Independent Biggleswade South councillor Hayley Whitaker presented the action group’s case to the committee.

52 SEND children don't currently have a specialist place for the start of the next school term

“One child without the appropriate education setting is one child too many, while 22 is just the tip of the iceberg,” she explained.

“They’re just the ones the action group knows about. This isn’t just about 22 children.

“As the council can’t provide SEND places for all of them the disruption to other children in the same class, where they’re taught in mainstream education, is phenomenal.

“It cannot be underestimated. It’s 660 children (indirectly) affected by this lack of places.

“Those 22 are the children the action group knows about. I’m sure there are far more. Expert panels have decided they require specialist education outside of mainstream.

“The lack of appropriate school places doesn’t mean they can simply be home schooled, and this does seem to happen quite often.

“These children are legally entitled to access the same quality of education as their mainstream counterparts. We simply don’t have the places for them.”

Conservative Leighton Buzzard South councillor Amanda Dodwell apologised on behalf of the council to all the families worried about school places.

“We understand the importance of having the correct placement for your child, and any uncertainty causes anxiety for the whole family,” councillor Dodwell told the executive.

“CBC recognises that every child should receive the best education in the right setting to achieve their life’s ambitions,” she said.

“We’re responsible for ensuring more than 7,000 SEND pupils have a school place in an appropriate setting.

“We’ve four excellent special schools and high quality additional resourced provision within Central Bedfordshire.

“Like many councils throughout the country we’re experiencing increasing demand for special school places.

“We’re making a significant £6.5m capital investment to create more than 100 SEND specialist places during the next three years.

“An extra 59 places will be available from September,” added councillor Dodwell, who’s the deputy executive member for families, education and children.

“We’re also currently consulting on our long-term plans to increase the number of specialist provision places to meet the ever-growing demand as part of the Schools for the Future programme.

“In Central Bedfordshire, we met 97 per cent of the demand for specialist places in all education health care plans (EHCPs) which were amended and finalised by the statutory deadline of February 15.

“An appropriate placement at a special school, alternative resource provision or mainstream school has been secured for September for the remaining three per cent of children.

“We’ve received more than 100 new EHCP requests for specialist places since February, with parents and professionals in agreement that a specialist placement is required.

“Currently, 52 children don’t have the specialist provision identified for the start of the Autumn term.

“Most of these children have a specialist provision identified for Easter or September 2022.

“CBC is working with the parents of children who don’t have an identified place in specialist provision for next term.”

The executive lacks the authority to call an extraordinary committee meeting, according to councillor Dodwell.

But the request has been forwarded to Conservative Biggleswade South councillor Mark Foster, who chairs the appropriate committee.