‘Council failure’ leaves special needs children in Kent without school taxis

WATCH: Video report on the school taxi failure described as ‘chaotic’ and ‘disgraceful’ by some parents

Kent County Council has apologised for a fresh ‘failure’ in its school transport system, which left some special needs children without their usual taxi service on the first day of term. 

It is thought at least nine families were affected by the ‘isolated administrative error’ on Tuesday 19 April, resulting in a number of children missing lessons. 

Other parents have spoken of having to make 40-mile round trips to make sure their youngsters made it to class. 

It follows widespread issues two months ago with the transport arrangements in Kent for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), which are arranged by the county council.  

Kent County Council has ‘sincerely apologised’ for the ‘isolated administrative error’ which meant some children weren’t picked up.

Bridget Pike, from Sittingbourne, was unable to get her 16-year-old son, Harry, to his school in Faversham on Tuesday, when his usual cab didn’t show up. 

Bridget told ITV News Meridian: “Children with autism like routine, and they don’t like last-minute change. It’s quite unfair, knowing these are children with additional needs.

“I managed to get hold of someone and they rang me back and said: ‘Yeah, there’s been an issue and it’s slipped through the net and there won’t be a taxi today’.

“It doesn’t strike me as very well organised. I think ‘chaotic’ would probably be a good description of the last six months. I think there needs to be a much more robust structure in place for the organisation of transport.”

Harry said he was “pacing back and forth” when his taxi didn’t arrive at 7.30am, as expected, making him “very anxious”.

“I don’t like change. It’s the worst thing on earth to have to experience,” Harry added. He missed school on Tuesday as a result of the problems. 

WATCH: Harry Pike, 16, and his mother Bridget discuss the impact of their school taxi 'no show'

On the Isle of Sheppey, 12-year-old Logan was also left without his usual taxi. His mother, Emma Dighton, described the ordeal as “disgraceful” and “unacceptable”.

“If it wasn't for us ringing the taxi people ourselves, we’d still be sat here with our children in their uniform, waiting to go to school. It’s not acceptable. 

“I don’t think they’re actually that bothered about it. I think the local authorities at the moment are very much fixed on saving money. 

“It’s not about the children as individuals, it’s about them as statistics, it’s about them as bums on seats, and I don’t think they should be treated like that.”

Emma Dighton had to arrange alternative transport for her son, Logan, when his normal taxi didn't show up.

In February, hundreds of schoolchildren were left without a minicab to get them to class, after council officials attempted to renegotiate all the taxi contracts. 

They had argued the changes were needed because of a 20% increase in students eligible for the service and a national shortage of drivers.

Those changes are currently the focus of an internal review

The Kent-based Autism Apprentice Community Interest Company (CIC) is supporting some of the affected families. Co-founder Donna Smith-Emes said: “Difficulties with transport is not a new thing, unfortunately.”

“In 2018, there was a SEND Ofsted review of Kent County Council and one of the things that came out of that was that families had lost trust within the processes in KCC, and sadly what we’re hearing is that the same difficulties are there – the trust isn’t there. 

“They really need to build that up from the ground up again,” Ms Smith-Emes said. 

In a statement, a Kent County Council spokesperson said: “We sincerely apologise that due to an isolated administrative error these children were not picked up for school on Tuesday 19th April.

“The situation was rectified immediately, and parents will be reimbursed for travel expenses incurred in getting their children to school. 

“We are taking steps to review our processes so we can ensure this failure is not repeated.”