'My gast is flabbered': SEND parents protest in outrage after children left without school places

Myles, Corrina, Cameron, Karen and Cllr Antonia Ryan in protest outside Central Bedfordshire Council

Myles, Corrina, Cameron, Karen and Cllr Antonia Ryan protested outside Central Bedfordshire Council's headquarters in Chicksands, as 52 SEND pupils are left without a school place for this academic year - 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.

Jimmy Carroll and Tracey McMahon joined protesters outside Central Bedfordshire Council's Priory House in Chicksands

Jimmy Carroll and Tracey McMahon joined protesters outside Central Bedfordshire Council's Priory House in Chicksands, demanding provision be made for 52 pupils with special educational needs who are without a school place - Credit: Maya Derrick

"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.

Rebecca Shepherd and Lisa Therkildsen in protest for special needs provision outside Central Bedfordshire Council

Rebecca Shepherd and Lisa Therkildsen held their banners high at the protest for special needs provision outside Central Bedfordshire Council today (September 7) - Credit: Maya Derrick

"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.

Parkside councillor Antonia Ryan called Central Bedfordshire Council an "absolute failure"

Parkside councillor Antonia Ryan called Central Bedfordshire Council an "absolute failure", as 52 children remain without a school place for this academic year, with further students on part-time timetables - Credit: Maya Derrick

"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.

Carolyn, who cares for her 14-year-old daughter with autism, said that Central Bedfordshire Council is "totally inadequate"

Parent Carolyn, who cares for her 14-year-old daughter with autism, said that Central Bedfordshire Council's actions have been "totally inadequate" - Credit: Maya Derrick

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.

Tracey Ashby directly asked councillors about the lack of school spaces for young people with special educational needs

Tracey Ashby directly asked councillors about the lack of school and college spaces for young people with special educational needs the with her placard - Credit: Maya Derrick

"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.

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