'Tearful parents related harrowing accounts over Central Beds SEND failures' says councillor

Central Bedfordshire Council is under fire after a highly critical Ofsted report into its care of children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND).

CBC's special education needs and disabilities (SEND) provision has been judged to be 'ineffective'
CBC's special education needs and disabilities (SEND) provision has been judged to be 'ineffective'

The report released last week judged CBC’s performance to be “ineffective” and cited a number of concerns.

These included:

> Leaders’ decisions lack “meaningful, measurable and precise targets” that are understood by all.

> Education, health and care plans (EHC) are inconsistent and sometimes of poor quality.

> Frequent staff changes leaving families struggling to get information.

> Too many families “bounced around services” with little meaningful help.

Now, a new Facebook group ‘Central Bedfordshire SEND Action Group’ has been set up encouraging families to share their stories online. The group has attracted over 400 people so far.

The Ofsted report stated: “Central Beds’ SEND strategy is not clear... Staff turnover and weak communication has meant that the urgent drive since 2018 has not been understood by all.

“This is leading to poor communication with professionals and families about what is on offer. Co-production is not well informed by the views of children, young people and their families.

“The views and needs of some children and young people are not well represented, such as the families from minority ethnic groups. The local offer is not effective.”

Independent councillor Adam Zerny said: “Tearful parents have related to me harrowing accounts of CBC’s failures and the damage done by delays and refusals.

“Parents have been refused the schools of their choice leaving children in limbo for as long as a year. I have also seen letters sent by CBC to parents threatening legal action against them.”

Labour councillor Antonia Ryan has also written to CBC with comments from affected families in her ward. Cllr Ryan wrote: “Firstly, I would like to express my disappointment at the recent

Ofsted for CBC’s SEND provision and also my sorrow for the families that had to endure our services.

“Speaking to families since the report, I understand there is a feeling of being unwelcome in our council. There is even one quote from a parent ‘feeling like a burden’. Parents and children deserved better.”

One parent was quoted as saying: “My husband had a heart attack during our fight to get our son his education, health and care plan (EHC).

“I’m on medication for anxiety and my son has totally and utterly given up, he has no self-worth and little self-esteem.

“He told me I should have aborted him as he is broken.

“We are struggling as a family. Dealing with an autistic child on the edge of adolescence can be very difficult, but again we have been offered no help or support at all.”

Independent councillors are demanding the Ofsted report be discussed at the CBC Children’s Services Overview & Scrutiny Committee on March 10 to ensure those responsible can be called to account.

Cllr Sue Clark, portfolio holder for education and children at CBC, said: “We are extremely sorry to families who feel that we’ve let them down.

"We completely accept the findings of the report and we recognise there are significant weaknesses in parts of our SEND service.

“Since putting our new SEND team in place, around 18 months ago, we have started to make the necessary changes, but we need to make them quicker and we need to do more.

“But that does not compensate for the parents who we have let down in the past, so we need to listen more and to work more closely with our families in addressing the concerns that Ofsted raised in their letter.

“Shortly, we’ll be inviting parents to some meetings with the director of the service so we can open up a better dialogue with families and, as of April, we will have a fully staffed SEND team and we will clear our backlog of EHC Plans by July. So, that’s an example of where we’re already working much more quickly and effectively.

"We aim to continue our transformation of SEND services. The hard work of our staff was recognised by inspectors who acknowledged that, 'there are many experienced, passionate and committed professionals across health, the local authority, schools and social care,' and this puts us in a strong position to improve all our services in order to make a difference to the lives of our most vulnerable children and families."