Kent transport

Hundreds of SEN pupils miss school as Kent County Council announces it will launch a review of transport issues

An investigation will take place after hundreds of children with special needs were unable to attend school because transport contracts were not concluded in time.

Many parents across the county are frantically trying to get in touch with Kent County Council about their own child’s arrangements.

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

It comes after a “jostling” of the movements of more than 5,000 young people with special educational needs and with disabilities (SEND), which came into force yesterday.

But changes to bus and taxi services were only announced on the eve of half term – leaving many parents in limbo – and many have still not been contacted.

A Northfleet mother called KCC on Monday after receiving no response and said no one had come to pick up her disabled son.

Toni Charlick, 35, said: “I haven’t received any emails saying no one will be picking up my son.

“I phoned the transport team, waited an hour to be told ‘some contracts are still open’ and they couldn’t tell me when it would be resolved.”

“I haven’t received any emails to say that no one will be picking up my son…”

Eventually KCC contacted Ms Charlick to detail arrangements for her son Adam, 16, who is traveling from his home in Painters Ash to Northfleet Technology College, but by then he had missed his first day back in sixth grade.

“I think the way they presented it is shocking,” she said. “It’s now ten days later and they can’t even give us an idea of ​​when this might be resolved.”

Kent County Council (KCC) said it was ‘deeply sorry for the anxiety caused’ and would carry out a ‘thorough review’.

He said he had to make changes to contracts due to increased demand and a shortage of drivers.

A spokesperson said officers were working hard to connect more than 5,500 children and young people with new transport providers.

But despite her best efforts, some parents are still waiting to find out who their child’s new caregiver will be.

KCC added that all remaining routes are now awaiting confirmation from contractors and will continue to reimburse parents when they have to make their own arrangements.

Emma Ben Moussa says her son Sami is non-verbal and has trouble changing his routine
Emma Ben Moussa says her son Sami is non-verbal and has trouble changing his routine

Parents say last-minute changes to drivers, escorts, schedules and vehicles will cause SEND youth anxiety and stress.

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

Sami, the son of Emma Ben Moussa, mother of two, attends Ifield School, a special school in Gravesend. He is non-verbal and doesn’t like changes in his routine.

The six-year-old has been collected by the same drivers from his home in Swanscombe for the past two years – but Emma was only told a new driver would be picking him up on Friday.

She said: “I think my child is at risk of injury from the changes.

“He has to get in a taxi with complete strangers. It’s now a matter of backup.”

“People have lost faith in KCC to do the best for these children…”

The mother-of-two and Dartford councilor has created a Facebook group for other affected parents and carers in Dartford and Gravesend.

“People have lost faith in KCC to do the best for these children,” Emma added.

“What matters to them are the bums on the seats. I asked for a risk assessment, but I still haven’t received one.”

Speaking to BBC Radio Kent earlier, Maidstone County Councilor Shellina Prendergast (Con) admitted the authority had ‘clearly underestimated the scale of the job’.

She said “nearly 300” were without transportation on Monday.

Ms Prendergast said: “I’m so sorry that parents and their children are going through this.

Cllr Lauren Sullivan said the changes were made in a "randomly" and "chaotic" manner
Cllr Lauren Sullivan said the changes were made in a ‘random’ and ‘chaotic’ manner

“I absolutely recognize the pain they are feeling. I am a mother myself. We will endeavor to arrange transport for each child as soon as possible.”

Charity Autism South East said it was hearing from understandably “frustrated, angry and upset” parents and carers.

He said the well-being of students must be paramount and asked KCC “to accept that they were wrong and to make the necessary changes”.

The Kent Labor group has also called for an explanation and postponement of the “chaotic” changes.

KCC Leader of the Opposition and Northfleet and Gravesend County Councilor Dr Lauren Sullivan (Lab) said: “When we were told the extent of the cuts to be made by the Conservative KCC administration during At the February 10 budget meeting, we weren’t told the cuts were to take place the following week in such a random and chaotic way that builds on past failures of SEND by KCC.

“There seems to be very little real consultation or conversation with parents about what the changes are likely to be and the potential impacts on their children.

“When we meet SEN families, I am always struck by the complexity of their lives and the incredible work they do for their children.

“I worry about the stress on these families – especially after the particular difficulties of recent years.”

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

“This is not a position we expected to be in and we are extremely sorry for putting parents and young people through this difficult time.

“Once the provision is fully allocated, we will conduct a thorough review of what went wrong and why to ensure that we learn and put measures in place so that this situation does not happen again.

“We understand that there will be concerns about new transportation providers and we want to reassure parents that their child’s needs will be accommodated as assessed by a previous eligibility assessment, including whether they need to traveling alone or need a passenger assistant.”