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Protests mark start of Central Bedfordshire Council's special educational needs and disabilities provision

Protests mark start of Central Bedfordshire Council’s special educational needs and disabilities provision

A three-day reinspection of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision in Central Bedfordshire began amid a protest by families annoyed by the slow pace of change.

Parents with placards and a loudspeaker made their feelings known outside Central Bedfordshire Council’s Chicksands headquarters.

Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) are into their final day (Wednesday, July 6) analysing progress in the SEND offer for Central Bedfordshire.

Protestors outside Central Beds Council’s HQ in Chicksands

Their joint findings in November 2019 included a demand for a written statement of action “because of significant areas of weakness in the local area’s SEND practice”.

An action plan of service improvements was drawn up by CBC and the BLMK Clinical Commissioning Group, now BLMK integrated care systems (ICS).

An inspector from Ofsted and another from the CQC are focusing only on the six areas of concern, according to the local authority.

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One of the protest placards

These include education health and care plans (EHCPs), leadership, a shared understanding of the outcomes needed for the children and young people, a clear SEND strategy for the area, and improved co-production with families.

A lack of response from CBC SEND staff and Conservative councillors was criticised after a previous demonstration when 52 pairs of shoes were lined up outside the Priory House building, one for each child without a suitable school place for last September.

But the Central Bedfordshire SEND action group posted on social media after Monday’s event that it was “pleased to see the new director of children’s services Sarah-Jane Smedmor come out to speak to parents”.

She was joined by deputy director Sarah Ferguson, chief SEND officer Jackie Edwards, as well as Conservative CBC deputy leader and executive member for families, education and children councillor Sue Clark and her executive deputy, councillor Amanda Dodwell.

Parents protest outside Priory House

“We hope all the parents having individual short meetings with them get some swift results,” added the action group, which was grateful for everyone who “showed their support for the SEND community”.

Speaking before the visit in an online letter to parents, Ms Smedmor said: “Since the inspection, we’ve undertaken significant work with parent carers, partners and other stakeholders to make improvements for children and young people with SEND.

“Ofsted and the CQC are keen to gain the views of our parent carers, as this will help shape their understanding of our progress as a local area.”

Parents were given the chance to have their say through an online survey or by email, while a virtual parent meeting with the inspectors was held on Monday evening.

If the local authority has made sufficient progress in addressing all of the areas of significant weakness, the Department for Education (DfE) and NHS England will stop making their formal quarterly support and challenge visits.

If the local area is making insufficient progress in addressing any of the areas of significant weakness, it is for the DfE and NHS England to determine next steps.

CBC and the CCG/ICS will receive the final version of the revisit letter within 28 days.

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