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(UK) Warwicks: 37% increase in special education demand

Feb 6, 2024, Stratford Herald: Anger grows over Warwickshire councillors’ comments about special needs children 

 THE shock and anger that has greeted comments from three Conservative county councillors about special needs children has provoked a backlash that now goes way beyond Warwickshire.

Provocative remarks about the rising numbers of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) at a county council meeting, included suggestions that some children might just need ‘some strict form of correction’; whether there was ‘something in the water’ to explain the rise – and whether parents are swapping tips on social media on how to get their children diagnosed. ...

And national disability equality charity Scope has added its voice to the wide-ranging criticism of opinions, dashing any hopes the Tories may have had of limiting the damage.

Head of Communications Alison Kerry said today, Tuesday: “Opinions like these should be consigned to history.

“The government has just released its Disability Action Plan. It promised to make this country the most accessible and importantly equal place to live in the world – so everyone can live their lives to the full and thrive.

“Attitudes like these work against the government’s plan, hold society back and demean disabled children.
“There should be no place for them in public life.”

The incendiary comments were voiced at the county’s recent children and young people overview and scrutiny committee, as part of an in-depth discussion of SEND provision - specifically the spiralling financial bill the council is facing to keep up with demand

Cllr Jeff Morgan (Con, Bulkington & Whitestone), the portfolio holder for children and families until May 2023 and now vice-chair of the council, questioned whether some (SEND) are “just really badly behaved”.

He also suggested such children may need “some form of strict correction”.

Cllr Brian Hammersley (Con, Bedworth Central) described the figures as “pretty astounding” and asked: “Does anyone know why this is increasing so rapidly? Is it something in the water?

“Why are there so many people now jumping out with these needs, where were they in the past when I was at school? I never heard of SEND (at that time).

“Although we are obligated to supply this cover for the needs of these people, it appears to be a bottomless pit, a hole that we are throwing loads of money into that the council has little to no control over.”

Cllr Morgan added: “It seems to me that the system for judging intervention, therapy, special needs, additional support, the threshold just keeps going down and down. Surely it cannot always be the case that just because demand is increasing that there is a genuine need.

“I don’t know how you (deal with) that apart from being tougher, asking more penetrating questions, not automatically accepting the plea of a mother saying that little Willy has ADHD when in actual fact little Willy is just really badly behaved and needs some form of strict correction.

“I don’t want to be too Daily Mail on this but I think there is a real issue in the system, it automatically seems to reduce the threshold all the time. Are there any checks and balances on this? Is there anything we can do?”

Cllr Clare Golby (Con, Arbury) called for a thorough look into more detailed data to address whether there were “hotspots” or missed areas, or regions or demographic groups where SEND had become conflated with other societal problems.

She asked: “One of the questions is maybe about what comes down to parenting and what comes down to SEND issues – how do we identify that and what pathways do we put people on that perhaps don’t have an SEND need but do have parenting skill shortages?”

She also queried whether the 37 per cent rise in demand had been driven by social media sites she had found where “families are swapping tips on how to get their children diagnosed”.

Council officers at the meeting disputed a number of the claims made by the councillors but the words from the three councillors in a public setting have caused alarm.

One mum of a child with special needs – Jo Maddox from Alcester - summed up the mood of so many when she told the Herald: “These people should be the pillars of our community, the people you are meant to turn to but these are quite prehistoric opinions.

“We need people who are relevant and in touch with the situation.

“A lot of money is being put into SEND but it feels like a double-edged sword. It seems as though they are spending the money but are bitter about it.

“I wouldn’t expect to keep my job if I made comments like that, so I’m calling for their resignations.”


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