'Turned away from 14 schools' - Families in Kent say their children are being failed by SEND system

  • WATCH ITV News Meridian's Christine Alsford speaking to Temi's family.

Hundreds of parents in Kent - who have children with special needs - say they are having to fight every step of the way just to get their child an education.

The county's provision is in crisis with the government ordering the local authority to improve after a damning report from inspectors last autumn.

Temi is 10 and has severe and complex needs.

He's been out of school for 11 months and all year his mum has been fighting tirelessly to get him a school place.

  • Temi's family say their son has been turned away from 14 different schools.

"It's very very terrible having to cope with children with needs and at the same time having to struggle for your school place. It shouldn't be like that. I think the children with special needs should be on top of the list."

Not only is Temi becoming more isolated - he only gets 12 hours of education a week with a one to one tutor provided by the local authority.

He doesn't speak, he has autism and his development is delayed. And without speech and language therapy his mum says he's regressing.

There is a special school three streets away from Temi's home in Sittingbourne - but it's full.

Kent County Council say when a child presents with complex needs - it can take time to find a suitable school place. Credit: ITV News Meridian

And the family has not only been turned away here, they've also had no luck at other schools as far away as Ashford, Dartford, Rochester, Maidstone, Gillingham and Dover.

"I've looked at 14 schools in total all across Kent.

"Honestly right now there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Everywhere is oversubscribed."

How much does she feel the system is at fault though?

"Phew, that's a difficult question. I think the system is failing us 101 per cent."

In response to questions relating to Temi, a Kent County Council spokesperson said: "We cannot comment on individual cases. However, when a child presents with complex needs it can take some time to find a suitable school place, taking up to 15 days per school consulted. In cases where there is a delay in securing a suitable school place, our priority – and statutory duty – is to ensure a child still has access to education, so in situations like these we arrange for the child to have a tutor."

Zoe Relf who lives near Ashford believes her experiences with her daughter show just how broken the system is.

Her daughter Ellie - who has autism, dyslexia and other issues that affect her learning - has been to five different schools in seven years and she's now out of education again.

Zoe says often the support she should receive because it's set out in legally binding documents simply isn't being delivered - from the biggest things right down to the smallest.

"Basic equipment that a child would require is dyslexia sheets - and it's taken four years to get them and you can buy a set for about £20."

And even now much bigger sums are involved, Zoe questions if it's always money well spent. She tells us at her most recent placement there was little education at all.

"From September onwards we were put on a part time timetable of six hours a week. It looks like they are actually in school when the majority of the time they are at home being looked after by their parents. And this independent specialist school is costing Kent County Council £70,000 a year."

Though she'll chat away to her mum in family videos, Ellie rarely speaks to strangers now.

Zoe claims delays, backlogs and a resistance by Kent County Council to putting in support early, have led to a deteriorating picture for her daughter - and they are by no means alone.

"It's frustrating for parents when we're not being listened to. We've had lack of assessments, monitoring, observations. I feel she has lost her education through all the failures. It's very sad to see what's happened to her."

In response to questions relating to Ellie, a Kent County Council spokesperson said: "We cannot comment on individual cases. However, when a child's need makes attendance at a school difficult, it can be a challenge to finalise stable school provision for them. We work closely with schools to help them provide a range of support aimed at enabling the child to return to school as quickly as possible, and some of this support can take place outside of school. 

"We monitor all high-cost placements, and put in place interventions where we can to make sure that children are able to make the best use of this provision. These interventions are tailored to the needs of the child and agreed with their families and depending on their needs, it can take longer than would normally be expected to have the intended impact and get them back into school. Where a child's EHCP names a school, KCC is legally obliged to secure a place for them there, including paying for the cost of that place for as long as they are registered on the school's roll."

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