Petition calling for 'removal or resignation' of Warwickshire councillors behind controversial SEND comments hits 30k

The wide-ranging petition also referenced concerns “around culture and decision making” at Warwickshire County Council.
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A 30,000-strong petition has called for the “resignation or removal” of three Warwickshire councillors who made inflammatory comments about special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

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Presented to a meeting for all councillors by SEND National Crisis Warwickshire’s Ellie Costello, the wide-ranging petition also referenced concerns “around culture and decision making” at Warwickshire County Council.

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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It requested mandatory training on SEND for all councillors, plus an update from the authority’s commitment from back in 2020 to lobby government for more adequate funding.

It arrives on the back of comments emanating from the county’s Children and Young People’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee in January this year, where councillors tasked with overseeing the work of the council in this area discussed the rising cost and demand pressures related to SEND.

Former cabinet member for children and families Councillor Jeff Morgan (Con, Bulkington & Whitestone) questioned whether some children put forward for SEND assessments were “just really badly behaved” and in need of “some form of strict correction”.

Councillor Brian Hammersley (Con, Bedworth Central) queried whether a surge in demand was down to “something in the water”, while Councillor Clare Golby (Con, Arbury) referred to social media pages where “families are swapping tips on how to get their children diagnosed” as part of a wider group of questions about whether SEND issues had become conflated with other societal problems such as parenting skill shortages.

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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. Calls for the trio to resign or have the Tory whip withdrawn – essentially banishing them from the party – while the investigation is completed continue to come.

“Culture drives decision making which informs policy and practice, and it is clear the culture and fallout of recent weeks has sullied everyone,” said Ms Costello.

“For too long, toxic, blinkered, discriminatory narratives about parents and carers of disabled children, and children with additional needs, have been allowed to go unchallenged.

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“As a parent/carer myself, I can assure you none of us choose this life. We are not chasing a golden ticket expecting the royal treatment.

“Our children are already multiply disadvantaged with protections and entitlements in law which are too often ignored.”

The petition was accepted by leader Councillor Izzi Seccombe OBE (Con, Stour & the Vale) but the matter was not debated further until a motion – a statement of intent – brought forward by Labour and the Liberal Democrats calling for mandatory training on SEND for all councillors was discussed.

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”.

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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.

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

There was a small amendment from the ruling Conservative group to cater for the smooth running of such groups while the training takes place but the tweaked text was unanimously accepted by politicians of all groups.

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During the debate, Cllr Seccombe said three dates had been set for the training sessions and urged councillors to sign up as soon as possible.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service approached Cllr Morgan, Cllr Hammersley and Cllr Golby individually for comment. All three declined to field questions.