Council leader insists call for Warwickshire councillors to be trained on special educational needs is being answered

It is in the wake of the backlash over comments made by three Conservative councillors in January.
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The leader of Warwickshire County Council insists the call for councillors to be trained on special educational needs is already being answered.

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Councillor Izzi Seccombe OBE (Con, Stour & the Vale) said the authority is working with three organisations to deliver training and workshops for elected members in the wake of the backlash over comments made by three Conservative councillors in January.

Shire Hall, which is home to Warwickshire County Council. Photo by Mike BakerShire Hall, which is home to Warwickshire County Council. Photo by Mike Baker
Shire Hall, which is home to Warwickshire County Council. Photo by Mike Baker
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The council’s Children & Young People’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee – a panel of councillors that runs the rule over and makes suggestions on the authority’s work on such services – was discussing rising cost and demand pressures related to special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Councillor Jeff Morgan (Bulkington & Whitestone) questioned whether some children put forward for SEND assessments were “just really badly behaved”, Councillor Brian Hammersley (Bedworth Central) queried whether a surge in demand was down to “something in the water”, while Councillor Clare Golby (Arbury) referred to social media pages where “families are swapping tips on how to get their children diagnosed”.

Selected comments were chopped and compiled to accompany black and white images depicting children in straitjackets, tied to radiators and preparing to be caned. The footage was shared to SEND Reform England’s TikTok page and viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

It led to a flurry of formal complaints that has seen the council enlist the services of a legal expert while calls for the trio to resign or have the Tory whip withdrawn – essentially banishing them from the party – while the investigation is completed have not gone away.

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Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors have now joined forces to put forward a motion – a statement of intent – at a meeting of full council on Tuesday (March 19).

It states that “it is vital that our knowledge and understanding is current”, including “increasing our shared understanding of the challenges facing parents and children, alongside looking towards best practice to improve what we do”.

It asks the council to commit to “the upskilling of councillors by providing annual mandatory training for all elected members”, with attendance at training sessions made necessary before they can serve on any panels, scrutiny committees or other bodies that handle the provision of children's services.

It adds: “These sessions will be co-produced in partnership between Warwickshire County Council's SEND services and families of children with SEND.

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"This training and development should be delivered as soon as possible, and no further than three months away.”

Cllr Seccombe said much of what it calls for has been put in place already.

“I have been working with the Warwickshire Parent Carer Voice and Warwickshire SEND Crisis,” she said.

“I have had a couple of meetings and I know that Nigel (Minns, director of children’s services) has followed up on that, we had already agreed to put in place a training programme.

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“There is a group called Impact which is our young peoples’ voice, we want them and the Parent Carer Voice to do the training sessions which is something that is being developed."

Asked whether she would support the motion, Cllr Seccombe replied: “It is a universal one that we would all agree with so I don’t imagine anything other than supporting it.

“I have already implemented most of what it asks for, that all got underway about three weeks, maybe a month ago.

“We are just waiting on dates from our Parent Carer Voice and Impact to get everything in place, I would have liked to have the dates in place before now but we are just getting everything scheduled into when they are able to do it.

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“It needs to be ongoing and I am creating a workshop with SEND Crisis and others to ensure we have a vehicle to capture the voice of the Warwickshire experience.

“In some cases that will be the parent or carer, in others it will be the young person, just to get across those highs and lows. I just want us to get that experience.

“Teachers, professionals, there is so much we can learn and gather from that which will be great so I am setting up a workshop day.

“In all of the emails I have had, a lot were very supportive of the work that has gone on in Warwickshire and their experiences, the help that people would like to give.

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“Everyone has a voice and I would like to give a chance to those people who don’t always get the chance to speak or are somewhat reticent. If we have a workshop, we have the means to draw out all voices.”

She also expressed hope that something good could emerge from this torrid period for the council.

“I think it will be enormously valuable to come away with the voices of Warwickshire, not just here but nationally as well. We could use this as a real vehicle for national understanding,” she added.

“All of the officers that have done so much to bring things forward in the past, all of the people who have written in because they don’t recognise this as the experience they have shared with Warwickshire, I’d like them to feel that they are part of something that is positive, not just negative.”