Parliamentary candidates engaged in a lively debate on what they would do to help children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) if they were elected as South Dorset's next MP.

Conservative candidate Richard Drax, Green Party candidate Dr Jon Orrell and Labour candidate Carralyn Parkes took questions in an event at Wyvern Academy in Weymouth.

Independent candidate Joseph Green and Liberal Democrat candidate Nick Ireland sent apologies as they had prior engagements that could not be rearranged.

The hustings, organised by the Dorset Parents Campaign Group For SEND Children, was chaired by Jules Daulby, a local inclusion specialist, teacher and podcaster on SEND matters.

Questions recorded by the academy's pupils were played to the candidates, the first of which asked them how they would use their position to ensure that SEND children get the support they need and are given the chance to succeed.

All three candidates agreed that better funding into education was required to address the issue. Dr Orrell and Mrs Parkes both blamed Tory austerity measures and cuts for the lack of money available to help SEND children, while Mr Drax pointed to his party's manifesto pledge to invest £14 billion into schools.

The MP hopefuls were also asked about the problem of rising rates of school exclusions and how the issue affects SEND children.

Mrs Parkes said that she would replace Ofsted and, again, called on the need to properly resource schools to help these children. Mr Drax talked about the potential for exclusion zones within schools and emphasised that sometimes headteachers have no choice to exclude pupils. Dr Orrell cited the loss of services such as children's centres and youth clubs, as well as cuts to funding, as contributing factors towards the rise in exclusion rates, and also pledged to abolish Ofsted.

The issue of parents having to pay transport costs to get their children to school was also put to the candidates. Mr Drax said he endorsed Dorset Council's review of the situation, while Dr Orrell said he would like to see public transport in public ownership. Mrs Parkes highlighted the Labour Party's manifesto pledge to introduce free public transport for under 25s as a solution.

Candidates were asked about their stance on academies. Dr Orrell said he believes they are harder to hold to account through councils. Mrs Parkes offered similar thoughts, saying that she is against academies. Conversely, Mr Drax stated his support for the system of academies and free schools.

Weymouth resident and parent of a SEND child Siobhan Lennon-Patience, who is one of the campaigners who helped organise the event, said: "I think it is really important that we get SEND on the agenda. We are here to hold people to account."