Mon. Jun 17th, 2019

Families rally against special educational needs funding cuts

Send protest in Westminster

Send National Crisis organisers say about 1,000 people attended a rally in Parliament Square in London. Photograph: Imageplotter/Rex/Shutterstock

Thousands of families with children who have special educational needs and disabilities have staged protests across England against funding cuts.

On Thursday afternoon, children, parents and teachers marched in 28 towns and cities including London, Bristol, Leeds and Birmingham in the first national action of its kind.

Organisers of Send National Crisis said about 1,000 people attended a rally in Parliament Square in Westminster. Among the speakers was the campaigner Emma Parker, whose son James has spent 29 months out of school over the past five years because of exclusions and reduced timetables.

“We have thousands of children across the UK who are not in schools, who are on reduced timetables and who don’t have access to the schools that they desperately need,” Parker said.

Ahead of the rally, James delivered a 13,000-signature petition to Downing Street to call on the government to end the “national crisis” in special educational needs and disability (Send) funding and delivery.

Statistics released on Thursday by the Department for Education show the number of children and young people with special educational needs or education, health and care plans in England increased by 34,200 (or 11%) from 2018.

An analysis by the National Education Union published in April found that special needs provision in England had lost out on £1.2bn because of shortfalls in funding increases from central government since 2015.

Parker said a lack of educational funding for children would mean they were more reliant on taxpayers in the future. “They’re putting monetary value on our children and it’s like what comes first, the money or the children,” she said.

The TV presenter Carrie Grant, whose four children all have special needs, spoke to the crowd in front of the Mahatma Gandhi statue in the square. She said her family’s experience of getting the appropriate educational support for three of her children who have complex special needs had “been shocking to say the least”.

Grant added: “The world that they [disabled children] face is a world that is just not ready.”

Though the government has said legislation introduced in 2014 increased funding for Send pupils, campaigners have said the growing number of children and young people requiring support is outstripping funds.

The Local Government Association estimates that English councils face a Send funding gap of more than £500m this year.

Melissa Acar, a 19-year-old with a developmental language disorder and cognition and learning disabilities, said she was at the rally in Westminster “to get [her] voice heard”. After achieving seven A*-C GCSEs, Acar was refused admission to her local sixth form because they said they lacked the funding to support her.

She challenged the decision at the high court and won, but Acar said the situation left her with “a mental health problem and constant emotional breakdowns”.

Lindsey Valkenborgs, 35, who works for the National Deaf Children’s Society, attended the rally with her daughter, Lexie, six, who has been deaf since birth.

Lexie receives support from a teaching assistant (TA) in a mainstream school but Valkenborgs is fearful about more funding cuts. “She might lose that support and the only reason she’s doing as well as she is today is because she has a TA and she has that individual support,” she said.

Nadhim Zahawi, the children and families minister, said the DFE statistics released on Thursday were “concerning” He said: “Education, health and care plans were introduced to provide personalised and tailored support for those children with more complex needs, but the 11% increase in plans last year is a clear challenge for the SEN and disability system. We will use this data to follow up with local authorities who are not performing well to support and challenge them to improve.

“My ambition for children with additional needs is that they have the same opportunities to succeed in life as any other child and I am pleased to see that children with new plans are securing more placements in mainstream schools … While we have increased the total amount allocated to high needs funding to £6.3bn this year, we recognise the pressures in the system and we are working with the sector ahead of the spending review to find a long-term, sustainable solution for high needs funding.”

[“source=theguardian”]