Recently, Mark Walker, the Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) director for Kent County Council decided to indulge some poorly-considered parent-shaming. I’m calling it out for what it is: pure, unadulterated parent shaming. Mr Walker decided to shame and blame the parents of Special Education Needs children for the his own local authority’s inability to provide enough suitable places for children with some of the most complex educational needs in Kent. Here in this Kent Online article, Mr Walker lambasted parents pushing for EHCPs – a document parents are legally entitled to seek – for their children with additional support needs. The system can’t cope he said. Then instead of discussing decades of underfunding and government cutbacks to local authorities, Mr Walker decided to blame the parents. What a clown.

Parent-shaming isn’t new. Governments and local authorities love to shift the blame onto less powerful people all the time, especially those who don’t have a right of reply. Mr Walker should have discussed the pitiful financial package central government gives to local authorities and he should have admitted the mammoth task he has on his hands after Kent County Council’s ‘ostriching’ (burying head in sand) for decades and failing to build enough special school provision, or even to develop enough units attached to mainstream schools to facilitate integration and support.

Child in class
Child in class

Mr Walker’s blunder compounds a miserable few months for Kent County Council’s handling of SEND provision. Many children who require extra educational support can’t attend their nearest school because it doesn’t fit their needs. When this is the case, the County Council provides transport for that child. Some children even travel out-of-county because Kent doesn’t have the right schools for some children with particular needs. Of course this is expensive Mr Walker. Again, don’t even think about blaming the parents. Oh…you already did.

On top of these recent parent-shaming episodes, a recent Kent County Council bungle of the SEND transport arrangements in Kent left many parents furious and children upset. The reconfiguration of the SEND transport services was, in effect, a cost-cutting measure. It meant that lots of children who often react poorly to changes of routine and provision were surprised with last minute changes to…oh…routine and provision. Children previously used to small taxis were put onto minibuses containing a wide age-range of children all with very different needs. Kent County Council also cancelled many contracts for established travel buddies, many of whom had developed important relationships with the children they cared for. Many SEND children across the county found their travel times to-and-from school vastly increased by the new transport arrangements. This meant that parents and carers (and of course the children themselves) having to content with exhaustion compounding some already very complex extra needs. For some children who mask behaviours in school, increased travel times (often well beyond the timeframes deemed suitable in Section 508B and Schedule 35B of the Education Act 1996) has meant parents are dealing with more meltdowns, sensory-excess-relief behaviours and increased school refusals. The problem was that the SEND transport reconfiguration started with financial efficiency being the end game, rather than the needs of the child. It was yet another chaotic failure of local government.

Finally, in a masterclass of hubris, Kent County Council refused to commission an independent review of their failures. They prefer to ‘hold the mirror up’ themselves. here’s betting they won’t see the horrific truth: they failed yet again.

A very clear message needs to be sent to Kent County Council and Mr Walker in particular. Stop gaslighting the carers, parents and teachers of children with SEN. The system is broken. You have to build and fund a new system. If central government are letting you down, call them out. Mr Walker has a decision to make: If he can’t be the champion for our SEN children and their often exhausted parents who have spent years battling a broken system, then he should resign and make way for someone who can be.

Mr Walker’s email is mark.walker@kent.gov.uk

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