Campaigning March mum's petition goes to council
A Fenland councillor has asked education chiefs to consider special needs children when it comes to building any new schools in March.
Town, district and county councillor Jan French made the appeal when she put forward a petition with over 660 signatures gathered by March mum Amy Loveridge.
Amy launched the petition calling for better special needs provision in the town after she failed to gain a school place for her five-year-old autistic son Archie.
Archie currently attends Westwood School in March, which Amy describes as doing a fantastic job, but explained that because of his autism Archie is currently repeating reception year, and is on course to to the same again this September.
A post about her son's experience on Facebook in December saw an outpouring of comments, nearly 200 in total, mostly from parents facing similar problems. As a result of that Amy launched her petition calling on Cambridgeshire County Council to do something about the situation, which she says is denying children like Archie the education they need.
Councillor French presented the petition on Amy's behalf to the recent meeting of Cambridgeshire's children and young people's committee, when she made the comment about including the needs of children like Archie when any new schools are built in the town.
She told the meeting that plans are currently being considered for over 2,000 homes as part of the March West Strategic Allocation, and those plans include new schools among other facilities.
Adding she hoped that special needs children would be taken into account when those schools were being built, pointing out that many are currently facing long journeys to attend schools outside the town.
"In March we do have many dozens of children with special needs, and many of these children travel many miles - we're talking about five-year-olds in taxis on their own - and I certainly wouldn't want my five-year-old travelling in a taxi," said Cllr French.
She said that every mainstream school in the town has children with special needs and that, she said, is impacting on both their own education and that of their fellow pupils.
Cllr French concluded: "I ask you to please listen to the petition, take into it consideration when looking at new schools in March."
However, Jonathan Lewis, Cambridgeshire's director for education, pointed out that it can take up to five years for a new school to be built and therefore there was a need to look at what could be done quickly to help children now.
He also pointed out that it was not viable to have a special needs school in every community and that 200 more special needs places were being provided in mainstream schools and other settings with an additional £2.6m of funding agreed to help with those schemes.
He said Cambridgeshire was facing an unprecedented demand for special needs places and that there was a predicted funding gap of around £40 million in the special needs budget expected by the end of the financial year.
Mr Lewis said the aim was always to try to provide places as close to home as possible, but added, that was not always possible.
He concluded by saying there were talks going on with educational leaders in Fenland on how capacity can be increased and any ideas will be brought back to a future committee meeting.