Parents protest over special needs education

The CWaC SEND Accountability group at the protest
The CWaC SEND Accountability group are campaigning for more support for children with special educational needs and disabilities [BBC]

Families have protested to demand better support for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

They gathered outside The Portal in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, on Tuesday to say they felt "consistently let down" by Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWAC) .

The protesters claimed the council's legal obligations "are being ignored".

The council said it was "strengthening" the system under "increased demand".

'Negligent communication'

More than 40 parents joined the protest, organised by Kim Bilcliffe, whose four-year-old son, Jacob has special educational needs.

She said the group wanted to "blow the whistle on the negligent communication and lack of respect to parents" by the CWaC SEN team.

"We have parents who have been marking emails as urgent, pleading for help from the team for them to be completely ignored," she said.

She said the statutory 20-week legal timescale for producing Educational Health Care plans (EHCs) - legally binding documents outlining a child or teenager's special educational, health, and social care needs - was only being met in 9% of cases in Cheshire West and Chester.

"We want the SEN team to put the needs of parents and children at the heart of everything they are doing", she added.

Victoria Hallworth and Laura Stimpson at the protest
Victoria Hallworth (left) said she is having therapy over her experiences while Laura Stimpson said she nearly had a nervous breakdown [BBC]

Laura Stimpson said she managed to get her four-year-old son, who requires a "high-level of day to day care" into a special school in September.

But it cost her "thousands of pounds" in solicitor fees and almost caused her a "nervous breakdown", she said.

Victoria Hallworth said trying to get her son into a special school put a strain on her marriage, adding: "We are having to go through therapy because of it."

Laura Rhodes, who has two sons aged 10 and eight-years-old, said she was told by the council that it met her son's needs in a "timely" fashion.

But she said they have had no special needs education for four and a half months.

'Increased demand'

A Cheshire West and Cheshire Council spokesman said there were "significant national challenges regarding the increase in requests for Education Health Care Needs Assessments".

The spokesman said the demand for special school places was greater than the number of places available.

The spokesman added: "The council is committed to sustaining our SEN service and additional resource has supported the team to employ additional staff to help cope with the level of demand.

“Further work is underway to improve our processes and channels of communication, as well as ensuring parents and carers can find all key relevant information on the SEND service easily in public forums.

“We are working hard to strengthen the SEND system in response to increased demand.”

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