Three councillors from Warwickshire County Council have issued apologies after they made “derogatory” remarks about children with SEND during a council meeting.
Cllrs Morgan, Golby, and Hammersley were recorded discussing the rising cost of council support for children with SEND on 25 January 2024.
One of the councillors suggested that some of these children are just “really badly behaved” and in need of “some form of strict correction”, while another questioned whether “parenting skill shortages” are causing SEND support requests to rise.
The national disability charity Scope has described the comments as “derogatory” and says such attitudes “hold society back and demean disabled children”.
Warwickshire councillor said old institutions ‘must have had better ways of dealing with’ SEND children
During the meeting, Cllr Brian Hammersley said: “Why are there so many people now jumping out with these needs? Where were they in the past? When I was at school, I’d never heard of SEND.”
In response, another councillor suggested that many children with SEND at that time were in institutions rather than in school.
Cllr Hammersley said: “They must have had better ways of dealing with them at that time. Let’s go back to some of those ways.”
Later on, Cllr Jeff Morgan suggested rising demand might not necessarily mean there was “genuine need”, and suggested council leaders needed to start asking ‘tougher’, ‘more penetrating’ questions.
He said: “…Not automatically accepting the pleas of a mother saying that ‘little Willy’ has got ADHD, when in actual fact, little Willy is just really badly behaved and needs some form of strict correction.”
A third council, Clare Golby, said: “I think one of the questions is what comes down to parenting and what comes down to ‘SEND issues’.
“How do we identify that and then what pathways do we put people on that perhaps don’t have an SEND need, but do have parenting skill shortages?”
Petition calls for immediate dismissal of councillors
Melvyna Hawes, who has a 6-year-old son diagnosed with autism and global development delay, has now started a petition which calls for Warwickshire County Council to “immediately dismiss” councillors Morgan, Golby, and Hammersley.
Ms Hawes said the views raised in the council meeting are “discriminatory” and “unacceptable”, and are representative of a “broader issue” within Warwickshire where SEN funding is regarded as a “last priority.”
“I am deeply troubled by the actions of this local council,” Ms Hawes said. “My son is non-verbal and currently out of school because no mainstream school can accommodate his needs, yet there are no available places at special educational needs (SEN) provisions. This situation is not unique to us but affects many families in Warwickshire.”
As well as calling for the dismissal of the councillors, Ms Hawes is calling for an immediate review into how SEND funding is prioritised within Warwickshire council’s budget allocations.
Councillors say they ‘regret’ choice of words
In a statement issued by Warwickshire County Council, all three of the councillors issued apologies for their remarks.
Cllr Jeff Morgan said: “As a former cabinet member and councillor of nine years I regret any offence caused by my choice of words. It was never my intention to offend, and I regret the words I used to make a point about demand and need in the SEND area. I remain committed to the children and families of Warwickshire.”
Councillor Brian Hammersley has apologised “unreservedly and he regrets his “clumsiness” and lack of care” in choosing his words.
“I can see the upset and offence they caused. I am terribly sorry and will be more thoughtful with my questions and words in future. I can see that I have some learning to do,” he added.
Councillor Clare Golby said she accepts the words she used during the meeting were “open to interpretation”.
“I have spent many years working hard to support children and families in the SEND community and it was never my intention to offend. I apologise for any offence caused,” she said.
Warwickshire County Council has not announced the dismissal of any of the councillors, but says it will continue to investigate a number of complaints made at the meeting.
A spokesperson from the council said the findings and outcomes will be communicated as soon as it is complete.