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Kent County Council issues apology as parents of SEN pupils left in limbo over transport provision


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The county council says it is "immensely sorry" for leaving parents of children with special educational needs in limbo over changes to school transport.

Kent County Council has carried out a shake-up of travel arrangements for more than 5,000 youngsters, which will come into effect when half-term ends on Monday.

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

But with less than three days to go, many pupils are yet to find out how they will be getting to and from school.

Mums and dads say the last-minute changes to drivers, escorts, timetables and vehicles will cause anxiety and stress for youngsters with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

They have accused the authority of putting “penny pinching” ahead of children’s welfare.

“Our children suffer often with severe anxiety, and changes need very careful planning,” said one mum, while another added: “It’s absolutely unacceptable”.

Kent County Council has this afternoon issued a full apology to parents, saying: "We are deeply sorry for the anxiety and worry caused by the delay in notifying parents of new transport arrangements."

Families with SEN children are deeply frustrated by the lack of communication from KCC
Families with SEN children are deeply frustrated by the lack of communication from KCC

It says it will carry out a "thorough review of what went wrong and why" to ensure the situation is not repeated, and adds that it will reimburse all parents who are forced to make their own transport arrangements next week.

Shelley Malekia, from Westbere, whose daughter has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and is non-verbal, is among many parents who have expressed anger and frustration over the delay.

“It takes a lot to build a bond between you and the person who’s taking your vulnerable child to school," she said.

“We have built up trust with the driver and escorts. A lot of parents are anxious.

“The council don’t seem to take into account the wellbeing of children and their parents.

Shelley Malekia, from Westbere near Canterbury. Picture: Shelley Malekia
Shelley Malekia, from Westbere near Canterbury. Picture: Shelley Malekia

“It seems like they’re just penny pinching.

“They’ve got no thought for children with special needs and autism who don’t like change.”

Ms Malekia, whose daughter goes to St Nicholas School, hopes KCC will consider sticking to the same transport providers, or at least give parents notice ahead of changes in future.

“Anything other than just leaving it all to the last minute,” she said. “They need to communicate earlier with families and think about the children with autism who have a meltdown at the smallest change.”

Andrea Lewis, from Whitstable, whose daughter attends the same school, described the lack of communication from KCC as “absolutely ridiculous”.

The lack of notice has left parents and children anxious
The lack of notice has left parents and children anxious

“Transporting vulnerable young people is such an important job and it has been reduced to a money-saving exercise without the consideration of the bigger picture and the knock on effects of people’s lives,” she said.

Lesley Collins, from Herne Bay, who has two children at special needs school in Ramsgate, said: “This is just a way to cut corners and save money for KCC.”

Another mum, who wanted to remain anonymous, said her child has autism, sensory needs, and anxiety and “cannot cope with change”.

“We do not know who the new provider is,” she said. “They go back to school in just over a week. How can I prepare them with such short notice? It’s appalling.”

Another parent said: “I’m so disappointed with KCC.

“This is not a position we ever anticipated being in and we are immensely sorry..."

“My daughter is severely autistic, non-verbal and yet again has to go through the change of driver and escort.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable how our children are being treated. [KCC has] no understanding to their needs or the stress and upheaval this puts on our families lives.”

Families in other parts of Kent have also been affected.

Mum-of-two Emma Ben Moussa’s son Sami attends a special school in Gravesend. The six-year-old has been picked up by the same drivers from his home in Swanscombe for the last two years – but has been told this will change next week.

“It is scary for a special needs person,” she said.

Parents raised concerns about the lack of communication the county council at the end of half-term last Friday. But a week later, many are still yet to find out what is happening regarding their child's school transport.

A KCC spokesperson said this afternoon: “We are deeply sorry for the anxiety and worry caused by the delay in notifying parents of new transport arrangements for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

“Officers have been working hard to match more than 5,500 children and young people with new transport providers and we regret that, despite best efforts, there are some parents still waiting to hear who their child’s new provider will be. We will contact these parents directly with details over the weekend but we will reimburse parents where they have to make their own arrangements.

“This is not a position we ever anticipated being in and we are immensely sorry for putting parents and young people through this trying time.

“Once provision is fully allocated, we will be conducting a thorough review of what went wrong and why to ensure we learn and put steps in place so this situation is not repeated.

“We understand there will be concerns about new transport providers and we want to reassure parents their child’s needs will be taken into account as assessed by a previous eligibility assessment, including if they need to travel alone or need a passenger assistant.”

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