A report exposing serious flaws in Birmingham City Council’s services for children with disabilities was “deliberately” suppressed, a former service head has claimed.
Former Tory councillor Matt Bennett, who was executive member for children’s services for a year up to May 2012, said the council’s education department had “buried” the independent Stamford Forum Report he commissioned, using only selective quotes that put the department in a good light.
The education scrutiny committee was told by Mr Bennett that even the current political head, Labour cabinet member for children’s services Brigid Jones had not been shown the report.
He was speaking as the committee was considering a ‘green paper’ consultation document on the future of special education needs, or SEN, in Birmingham.
Mr Bennett said: “Coun Jones I am sure is trying her best with the resources she had, but you can’t polish a turd.”
He said that the group of officers running special education needs (SEN) are resistant to any political direction.
“I believe the whole approach of SEN is ideologically driven. There are a group of officers who, regardless of the political leadership, want to channel children with special needs into mainstream education. There is no consideration of the individual needs of the child, they just apply the policy.”
He told the committee that he and former cabinet member Les Lawrence instigated an independent review of the SEN services, the Stanford Forum, in 2011 which uncovered ‘very serious flaws in leadership and management’.
The report highlighted: ‘Fatal flaws in the strategy, refresh and subsequent consultation process’, ‘A major lack of confidence in the council on the part of the special school head teachers group’, ‘Perceived lack of clear leadership and direction within the immediate management structure to which the special school head teachers relate’ and ‘paralysis of capital planning’.
The scrutiny committee was scathing in its assessment of the green paper review which it claimed showed many of these problems remain.
Committee chairwoman Anita Ward (Lab, Hodge Hill) said: “We have a number concerns about the way consultation is being conducted. The questionnaire was very much geared towards professionals, and even those we met during visits to schools said they did not understand what was being consulted on.
“Mr Bennett has given us some useful insight into the history, he did not hold back and I welcome that. We have also made the Stamford Forum report available.”
She said that the Cabinet member Brigid Jones has now asked the scrutiny committee to play a major role in the consultation and development of the policy, although there is some concern that they should not develop a policy they themselves will be scrutinising.
Coun Ward said: “We have to get this right, we owe it to the vulnerable children of this city. We cannot continue to get it wrong.”
There were also issues with home to school transport cuts affecting disabled pupils. Committee member Coun Barry Bowles (Lab, Hall Green) asked why the home to school transport for children with special needs had been part of a separate policy – one which has been designed to cut £1 million from a £16 million budget.
He said: “I know of many parents who have letters saying they are not going to get transport. The letters I have seen say things like ‘we know your son or daughter has no awareness of danger, that they have got special needs, that you have not got a car, that they have siblings going to different schools, but we are still not going to provide transport.
“These are not children with mild dyslexia, these are at the top end of the spectrum. I makes me ashamed that this has come from a council I am elected to.
“I have parent with a special needs child who I am helping who has to get 12 buses a day, three in and three out twice a day. This is going to end with a judicial review.”