Bedfordshire children with special needs 'left behind' as parents are threatened with prison

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Parents of children with special educational needs say they are being threatened with fines, court action and even prison because of poor school attendance.

Now they are calling for the government to overhaul the system and ensure no child is left behind.

After months of fighting Maddie Roberts from Sandy in Bedfordshire has forced her local council to acknowledge they have a legal obligation to help her eight-year-old son Harley - who is autistic and has ADHD - access education outside of school.

Ms Roberts says many families are not aware of the council's legal obligation and has launched a petition calling for the government to reconsider the rules around such absences.

She said: "This really is a phenomenal issue with so many families and so many children suffering.

"We see an awful lot in support groups of families that are actually being fined or there's the threat of fines. We're seeing that this is having a really negative impact on parents and their children."

Susannah Severin's son Josh Credit: Susannah Severin

Susannah Severin's son 14-year-old son Josh does odd jobs for neighbours in Biggleswade and helps around the house, but he is also autistic and cannot cope at school.

His mother said: "We had a letter to say that we need to go to a pre-court meeting with the education welfare officer, school and Josh to discuss his attendance, and that if there was no improvement to his attendance, then this could result in us being taken to court and fined thousands of pounds and possible imprisonment."

Eventually Josh was given help at home, with tutors coming to help him learn. But his family said the toll the threats took are not easily forgotten and the process of getting home education was long-winded and difficult to navigate.

Zoe Elliott's son Hudson on his first day of school and the last day he went in Credit: Zoe Elliott

Zoe Elliott from Leighton Buzzard has also been threatened with fines over her six-year-old son Hudson's lack of attendance at school.

She is currently battling to get him help at home and said that he had gone for two years without any intervention or assessment.

"I find that quite disgusting, I don't know how else to describe it," she said. "How can you be letting this child down like this?

"To be batted back and forth from the school to the local authority, to the local authority, to the school, to this person, to that person doesn't help anyone and it doesn't help any child who is missing out."

In a statement Central Bedfordshire Council said: "With regards to issuing fines, this is not a decision we take lightly, but we do have a legal duty to fine those who do not send their children to school and do not have a reasonable reason for doing so.

"We look at every case individually, particularly where a child has a special educational need and we will use discretion not to fine the parent if appropriate."