Families from across Cheshire West and Chester gathered outside the council's HQ today (Tuesday) to demand greater support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Scores of protesters staged a demonstration outside The Portal in Ellesmere Port, with parents, children and supporters holding placards demanding action over what they said was a lack of support for children who require specialist education provision.

The demonstration was organised by CWaC SEND Accountability, a group  launched several weeks ago comprised of parents who said they were forced to turn to each other after being ‘let down’ by the council’s special educational needs (SEN) department. The group has already attracted more than 1,000 followers on social media.

Mum Samantha Walley, from Upton, and son Harrison, aged five, were among those attending.  She said Harrison, who has been diagnosed with autism, was currently receiving one-to-one support in mainstream education which she said could not meet his needs.

Chester and District Standard: Samantha Walley with son Harrison, aged fiveSamantha Walley with son Harrison, aged five (Image: LDRS)

She said: "He's behind in 16 of the 17 EYFS (early years foundation stage) curriculum areas. And they've just come back with the decision that Harrison needs to be kept in mainstream, so we face a tribunal."

She added: "It's really worrying because Harrison has already spent the first year in a setting that is not meeting his needs. And the fight just continues and I know what lies ahead. And meanwhile every day I'm taking him to a school that's causing him distress. It's heartbreaking."

Speaking at the demonstration, Karen Broomhead, from Ellesmere Port, one of the organisers, said: "We've we've said from the very beginning this is peaceful protest. We don't want people to feel uncomfortable - because we've felt like that ourselves."

She added: "It's an important point to be here in Ellesmere Port right in front of The Portal where life-changing decisions are made about our children. This is where it all happens, quite often behind closed doors, because we're not invited to meetings about our children, we're not invited to the panels where decisions are made."

Chester and District Standard: Two of the protest organisers, Ali Hutchinson and Karen BroomheadTwo of the protest organisers, Ali Hutchinson and Karen Broomhead (Image: LDRS)

Fellow organiser Ali Hutchinson, also from Ellesmere Port, added: "I'm really happy with the attendance and we have a few people coming later.

"Obviously, given the nature of being SEND parents we've got lots of people who have caring commitments that mean they can't be here. We've had lots of messages of support from people who can't attend. Some are scared of attending because they're worried about repercussions."

Cheshire West and Chester Council will not currently comment due to local government election pre-election restrictions, but a previous response stated that a group of lead council members, officers and the chair of the Parent Carer Forum had met with representatives of the CWaC SEND Accountability group and were currently planning further face-to-face meetings to provide responses and actions to address concerns raised.