By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Politicians have warned “trust” needs to be rebuilt between a council and Kent parents over special educational needs (SEN) transport failings this year.
The county’s Labour group says families of disabled children have been “let down” by Kent County Council (KCC), the local education authority, after hundreds of SEN young people were unable to get to school in February 2022.
Dozens of taxis and buses did not turn up to the family homes of disabled children to drive them to their school amid contract retendering issues.
KCC’s main opposition leader, Cllr Dr Lauren Sullivan (Lab), said: “We need a system that is genuinely compassionate and understands the stresses and needs of families to make it easier, not put up more barriers, for education.”
Meanwhile, Cllr Alister Brady (Lab), who is KCC’s shadow cabinet member for education, has also lobbied for change. He said: “This is about rebuilding trust.
“Many parents and children felt let down by the county council due to the unacceptable situation that occurred.”
Their comments come as KCC education bosses have launched an urgent appeal for Kent parents to put in requests for SEN transport applications this September.
Last year, KCC’s SEN transport department allocated transport places for 7,384 disabled pupils, including 6521 in school and 863 college students.
The high demand has become increasingly challenging for the council to arrange placements.
Applications for SEN transport can be made by parents whose children are starting a new school in September, or, received a new or amended education, health and care plan (EHCP).
KCC’s cabinet member for education and skills, Cllr Shellina Prendergast (Con), has urged parents to apply quickly.
Last week, she said: “We know that many parents of children who have special educational needs and disabilities need time to plan any changes to their child’s routine, especially when they are using new transport.
“We have written directly to parents to give them details about how to apply so that we can get transport organised for the start of school in September.
“We also made some changes earlier this year to simplify our mainstream transport applications so that we could free up capacity during the busy summer months to deal with SEND transport applications.
“Although we have received many applications so far, there are still some parents who have yet to apply.”
Ongoing concerns have been raised by KCC’s Labour group ahead of the September term resuming as an internal inquiry into the SEND transport failings around February half term continues.
Cllr Brady added: “Parents need to feel supported – that will only work if KCC can build a relationship with parents from the first contact.
“This is not just about providing transport to school, this is about providing suitable transport.”
Kent SEN parents can apply for SEND transport placements via https://www.kent.gov.uk/education-and-children/schools/school-transport/free-school-transport