'My gast is flabbered': SEND parents protest in outrage after children left without school places
- Credit: Maya Derrick
Protesters have gathered outside Central Bedfordshire Council's headquarters today to express their outrage, as more than 50 children with special educational needs remain without a school place for this academic year.
Parents and their children, as well as their friends and family, were represented by Independent Biggleswade South councillor Hayley Whitaker, who acted as a spokesperson for Central Bedfordshire SEND Action Group.
The campaigners say 52 children in and around the county are without a suitable school place, with a further 148 on part-time timetables.
Protester Janine Dixon-Wilkinson said: "I'm here because we had the same fight over twenty years ago, and the same thing is happening.
"It hasn't stopped, it hasn't changed. When is it going to change? It's ridiculous.
"This is crazy, that these children aren't having their needs met and, even worse, now they haven't even got school places.
"My gast is flabbered!"
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Cllr John Baker, who serves as the Independent councillor for Aspley and Woburn, told the Comet that he hopes that SEND parents' stand will bring the neglect of special needs provision the the forefront of the council's attention.
"I'm here to support these parents, because 52 children are going without a special school place due to the incompetence and ineptitude of Central Bedfordshire Council."
He further accused Conservative councillors of "filibuster and waffle", adding that they "pretend that there isn't a problem".
"The parents have decided that they maybe need to be a little more vocal in making their points. I think they're doing a fantastic job. It's wonderful to see democracy in action today," he said.
Parkside Labour councillor Antonia Ryan added: "I'm here to support the 52 children that are out of school.
"These children have been long suffering, and they've been asked to go to special schools.
"We've been told several times at the children's services meeting that there are places available. We've now been told that there are 52 children that don't have any right to education.
"It is their statutory requirement to put these children in a school, and they've been denied that. They've been denied that all along.
"Parents have been told several times to go on a parenting course, when they should've been given assessments to support their children.
"This is an absolute failure of Central Bedfordshire, and there needs to be something done immediately."
Carolyn attended the protest in support of other parents, and for better provision for her autistic 14-year-old daughter.
She explained how she gave up work to care for her child around the clock, and how the failings of Central Bedfordshire Council have had an astronomical impact on her family's life.
Branding the council "totally inadequate", Carolyn said: "The council has deemed that my child isn't severe enough to be awarded a specialist placement. This is the second time, so we're appealing it.
"That is why every single parent here, is here. To fight. To ask the council - not even ask, to tell the council - to find places. Because I know damn well they can.
"We doubt very much that anything will happen. There are certain people in there that need to develop a backbone and fight for our issues.
"They're diagnosing our children for us, when they haven't even got a clue. They're not medical professionals. They're not in our shoes.
In a statement after the protest, Cllr Sue Clark, executive member for children, families and schools said: "We are doing everything we can to meet the rising demand for special school places.
"It is not good enough that we have children who are having to wait for a special school place. A place that we all agree those children need.
"Over 600 of our children attend our four special schools, however, special school places are in high demand and this means that new requests for a special school placement that come in during the year cannot be secured quickly as we would like. We cannot hold school places open.
"We are working closely with the families of the 52 children who are waiting for a special school place and we are providing additional bespoke support either at home or in their existing mainstream school until their special school place becomes available."
To follow the work of Central Bedfordshire SEND Action Group, visit its Facebook page.