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(UK) Kent: "Budget savings" behind lack of transport for 5,000 special needs kids

Sept 29, 2022, Kent Online: Review into Kent County Council's handling of SEND school transport fiasco identifies 'serious flaws'

SE England

A review into Kent County Council’s handling of school transport for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) has identified a number of "serious flaws".

Among the most damning findings was the lack of accountability around the need to make £2m [$2.2M] budget savings, which was one of the main drivers behind the re-tendering exercise.

Officers and members of the local authority were found to have had a "lack of understanding" over the proposal which had "significant weaknesses" and was agreed without full consideration of all of the risks involved and its impact.

That was the finding of a new report by KCC reviewing its redesign of school transport for children and young people with SEND needs.

It comes after parents were left in limbo earlier this year over changes which left hundreds of pupils unable to get to school.

In February this year, KCC said it was "immensely sorry" for the issues parents faced after a shake up in travel arrangements for more than 5,000 youngsters.

These changes led to many SEND students being stranded, as buses and taxis didn't turn up to take them to school, leading parents to accuse the authority of putting “penny pinching” ahead of children’s welfare.

Following this backlash, council bosses said they would carry out a "thorough review of what went wrong and why”.

Published earlier today during a governance and audit committee meet, the review focused on 11 areas which included the impact on children and families, the communication with parents and carers about the changes, how decisions were made, the processes that were followed, governance arrangements and the communication between the departments responsible….

Overall, the review concludes greater emphasis on good governance, along with the impact on those who receive services, must be at the forefront of all future council decisions to make sure similar situations do not happen again.

Officers will now consider the appropriate management action required to address the lessons learnt from the review.

Leader of KCC, Roger Gough (Con), said: “We promised parents that we would conduct a thorough and independent review of the issues that led to the significant service failures in February this year – and make public the findings.

"This report lays bare the causes of these services failures. On behalf of the council, I accept the report and its findings.

“We now need time to fully consider the report and the actions we need to take in response. The report will be discussed at the Scrutiny Committee on October 11 and at a future Governance and Audit Committee.

“We have already begun to make changes to SEND transport arrangements so that the start of the school year in September went as smoothly as possible for most families.

“Over the coming weeks we will be putting in place appropriate governance arrangements and publishing further details about the actions and measures we will be taking in response to the observations, lessons learnt and conclusions outlined in this report.”

The problem of SEND pupils still being unable to get to and from school is also a problem in Medway which has a unitary council responsible for providing its services, including education and social services.

Earlier today it was reported how one Gillingham special needs pupil has been left without a way of getting to school for five months.

It comes after the family were moved by Canterbury City Council to a house in Gillingham in April after their previous home was sold by their landlord.

Reggie, who has global developmental delay due to being born prematurely, has been left with no access to the free transport he is entitled to.

Parents of children with SEN were deeply frustrated by KCC's lack of communication regarding transport changes


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