Council hits back after tories criticise autism education in porthcawl

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

By Philip Irwin

in Education

Welsh Conservatives are claiming that children on the autism spectrum in Porthcawl are not being given a fair deal, because there are no suitable units in the town.

Instead, they have to be taken by taxi to a suitable unit in Bridgend or elsewhere.

Welsh Conservative regional AM Dr Altaf Hussain has urged education chiefs at Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) to make provision for specialist classes in Porthcawl’s schools.

However, BCBC officers responded by saying that Porthcawl had relatively few pupils who needed this service.

Dr Hussain’s call comes after figures obtained after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Welsh Conservative Assembly candidate George Jabbour.

This revealed that BCBC spent £970,853 for the 2014-2015 financial year on taking children to schools in the borough in special-needs specific taxis.

Mr Jabbour said: “I asked the council for this information because while phone canvassing, people highlighted to me that if Porthcawl had places for children with special needs, the cost of transport in taxis would be lower, and it would be better for the children, so they don’t have a long journey to school.”

The GEM asked how many children in Porthcawl were affected, but a Conservative spokesman said that this had not been passed on with the FoI.

Dr Hussain commented: “It would be helpful for the council’s education department to take a long-term view – making the investment in this provision now would have a positive impact on the community well into the future.

“Whilst the schools they are sent to at present may only be a few miles away, the journey on a minibus can last several hours while all of the children are being dropped off, and I am sure that could be spent in a way that these much more stimulating for these children.”

Their calls received the backing of the chair of the National Autistic Society in Bridgend, Jill Grange, who said: “I would support local special and specialised classes for autistic and SEN children.

“Our children take longer and find it harder to build relationships and need specialist support to do so. In my opinion it is possible to make reasonable adjustments in local facilities which would reduce travel time, costs and the stress involved in transport, ensuring the special needs child arrives at school ready to learn”.

Dr Hussain said that he had received a letter from Deborah McMillan, the corporate director, Education and Transformation, at BCBC), where she says:?“The town in which each pupil lives is of primary importance when decisions are made about placement.

“This not only ensures that pupils stay within their local communities, and are given the opportunity to walk to school, but it also prevents long periods of time travelling between home and school in taxis or minibuses.”

A?BCBC?spokesman said:?“While there isn’t any provision within Porthcawl itself, pupils with a dual diagnosis of autism and moderate learning difficulties are well supported by observation classes and learning resource centres only a few miles away at schools, including Cornelly Primary School, Cefn Cribwr Primary School, Pil Primary School and Cynffig Comprehensive.

“There are currently fewer children living in Porthcawl who need this provision than in other parts of the county, but we are committed to providing services that meet the needs of all local children and are constantly reviewing provision.

“A small number of pupils who require extra specialist support are transported to attend one of our Communication Autistic Resource Education (CARE) centres, which are in several locations across the county borough.

“Of those pupils, eight per cent are from Porthcawl, which works out as three pupils – two in the foundation phase and one in key stage 3. The annual cost of providing transport for pupils from Porthcawl to these ‘CARE’ centres is £7,695.”

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