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Parents of SEN children demand Conservative Kent County Councillors Sarah Hudson and Simon Webb are sacked over comments made in committee meeting

Parents of children with special education needs are demanding councillors be sacked over “derogatory” comments made during a council meeting.

An organisation which represents the parents of children with special needs is demanding a formal apology to its families and is refusing to attend any future meetings until the issue is resolved.

During a recent SEND sub-scrutiny meeting, Conservative councillor for Maidstone Simon Webb sparked outrage with his comments suggesting having an Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP) was the “in thing”.

“Where are the gatekeepers?” he said. “If I am a parent who thinks that their child needs an EHCP, because that’s the in thing to do as a parent these days, who is going to turn around and say no.”

He also asked the council to take a trip to see how other councils work who manage to not give out so many of the provisions for children with special needs.

“How do they restrict their numbers of EHCPs and we don’t?” he wanted to know during a discussion on funding demands.

Later in the debate, Conservative councillor for Tonbridge and Malling Sarah Hudson was discussing the criteria needed to be met when applying for an EHCP and whether schools or parents should initiate the process.

She then suggested some parents only apply for the provision because of the extra benefits.

Maidstone County Hall
Maidstone County Hall

During the meeting at county hall, she said: “There are families who have never, even once, taken their own child to school because the state pays for a cab to take them.

“Even though it might only be just up the road and they are perfectly capable of doing it themselves because neither of them work.

She added: “They are deliberately choosing that route because they see all the add-ons that go with it and they think, ‘This is b***** good. Let’s go for it.’”

Kent PACT, a parent carer forum set up for parents of children and young adults with disabilities and additional needs, said it was “shocked and disgusted” at the comments made by elected council members.

A spokesman for the organisation said: “We have written to the committee chair requesting a formal apology to SEND families and until significant changes are made we will no longer be attending meetings.

“A public apology to the families of Kent by members would be an appropriate response given the severity of their conduct.”

Emma Ben Moussa and her son Sammy, 7.
Emma Ben Moussa and her son Sammy, 7.

Labour councillor Emma Ben Moussa, who lives in Swanscombe with her seven year-old-son who has additional needs, said she was shocked at the comments from a fellow councillor.

She said: “I find his comment disgusting and completely unnecessary. As a councillor you are elected to represent your constituents’ views and try to improve their lives. I highly doubt a parent of a disabled child in his ward is feeling anything less than furious right now.

“Thanks to the council, parents are forced to fight for education for their SEND children and with men like that making the decisions I can see why it is in a complete mess. He should be ashamed of inciting hate towards disabled children and their parents.”

Danielle, from Ashford, has a five-year-old son with SEN. She said: “I was outraged at the discriminatory and disparaging comments that were made about children and young people with SEND as well as their families.

“I have watched the full three hour 34 minute meeting in full several times as I honestly couldn't believe what I was watching or hearing.”

Vikki Fairman, from Swanscombe, has a three-year-old daughter who is at the very early stages of the EHCP process.

She said: “I think it is utterly appalling. As a mother of a child with SEND who is non verbal, any provision applied for is in the interest of my child, I am her advocate, I do all I can for her, not to be in a club or an ‘in’ thing to do, but to ensure she is given the best chance at a happy and fulfilling life.”

“People would not fight all this time just for a free taxi, or other such ‘bonuses’. We are fighting for our children’s rights to be included in education and have an equal chance at life.

“The councillors’ thoughts are very elitist and stereotypical and they clearly have no real clue as to what is going on in the broken educational system.”

Emma Dalmayne runs a group called Autistic Inclusive Meets
Emma Dalmayne runs a group called Autistic Inclusive Meets

Emma Dalmayne, who runs a group called Autistic Inclusive Meets, said trying to secure an EHCP is not an easy option for families.

She said: “The remarks from the two members were not only incredibly ignorant, they were also disgustingly presumptuous and ableist.

“Parents have to fight for everything for their disabled children. It's certainly not handed to us on a plate as it was insinuated.

“For our children to be given basic accommodations to enable them to access an education we need an EHCP, we need transport and we need accommodations to be made. These things are not luxuries they are necessities.”

The authority recently had to be bailed out on its special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) budget by the government and told it must bring its budgets into line quickly, ordering a major shake-up of where children with SEND are taught.

It will mean it will be far harder for parents to secure a special school place and that many more children with a number of conditions will, instead, be put into mainstream schools.

In February, Kent County Council were forced to apologise for the issues parents faced after a shake up in travel arrangements for more than 5,000 youngsters 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.

Cllr Sarah Hudson declined to comment.

Kent County Council and cllr Simon Webb have been approached for comment.

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