'This summer we wave farewell to our SEN kids – funding cuts mean we have to make the TAs redundant'

On 21 July we'll say goodbye to vulnerable children who rely on the opportunities our school provides and 15 excellent TAs – all because of budget cuts, writes one parent governor

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I was chatting to the head on the playground earlier this week, having dropped my daughter off, and a young lad with Down's came past, who I know needs one-to-one teaching assistant care. He gave us such a cheery "hello" that it was almost unbearable to think that this might be his last term at our school.

But the sword of Damocles hangs over not only him and other children but also around 15 of our school's highly valued, highly skilled and critically important TAs.

Today, these TAs will be told that their position is being made redundant. With their redundancy comes the inescapable fact that a number of children will not be able to receive the full-time TA care they need and therefore will not be able to remain in the school.

My governor and SLT colleagues on the committee making this decision, with union representatives watching on, will have had to choose who we can no longer retain. Whose experience and expertise we are going to have to do without, and who we are going to put out on the job market looking for a position when they are diminishing in every school.

Among the questions the committee needed to answer were: should we retain a TA to care for one child with significant additional needs or retain another to be able to work with a class of 30 children?

Are the needs of one child, disadvantaged by their condition, more or less important than the needs of 30? It's an interesting ethical thought experiment...if only that's all it were. Instead, these are real decisions we have to make right now in order to make our budget work.

In reality, I expect we will have to be utilitarian about it and help 30 children, even though that means one child, already facing their own daily challenges, will have further disadvantage heaped upon them.

The most infuriating thing of all is that by not funding our school properly (our per-pupil figure of £3,090 per year is the lowest in Derbyshire and among the lowest in the country; the average for the county is £3,888), the LA is likely to actually cost itself more money.

The children with additional needs who will have to leave our school will need to find a new school, probably a special school where a place can cost up to £50,000 a year.

In its latest comeback, the LA suggests that it will simply find another regular primary school for these children.

Apart from being curious about which schools will be willing to spend thousands of pounds of their shrinking budgets, it occurs to me that the LA has in effect declared the happiness of these children of lower import than sticking rigidly to its own flawed, unfair funding formula.

Rather than admitting that our school has been underfunded for years or accepting the fact that not bridging the budget gap this year will cost it considerably more in the long run, it instead watches on as vulnerable children will be forced to leave the school, teachers, TAs and friends they love, and leave behind the safety, security and familiarity they need.

Children 'treated as problems to solve'

These children are being treated as problems to solve, not vulnerable children to help. It's not good enough.

These past few weeks, we have continued to make representations to the LA, both directly and via our elected representatives. Their courteous, if slow, responses bear all the hallmarks of an organisation vigorously doing nothing at all, bar ensuring that it's not their fingerprints on this time bomb when it goes off.

We've also spent the past few weeks writing to local companies and national companies with a local presence, asking them to consider sponsoring a TA from their substantial profits.

Only two have replied and one of those was to tell us that they had already contributed "above target" to our school by paying their taxes. At least this gave us an all-too-rare smile. Full marks for creativity, zero for humanity.

So, we've tried everything to hang on to our TAs for one more year, in the hope that in the following year the national funding formula will level out the playing field. But we're out of time. The LA has been intransigent, local companies diffident, national government uninterested.

Today around 15 TAs will begin serving their notice. We have failed and we have been failed.

When I first started out on this campaign with other concerned parents, governors and staff, I naively felt that having a compelling case around the injustice of what was happening allied to the false economy of making these TAs redundant would mean it was simply a matter of making ourselves heard and understood, then everything would be fixed.

It felt like we were being uniquely singled out for ill treatment and when the authorities realised how staff and children would suffer, they would relent.

What I have learned is that we are far from alone. This story is being repeated across the country; indeed, we are not even experiencing the worst of it. When it's clear that even having right on your side does not change anything, then where is there left to go?

This has been coming for a while, of course.

We've managed so far by working harder and longer as well as smarter. We have teachers and TAs routinely working way beyond the hours for which they are paid. Some of our TAs are qualified teachers themselves so we really do get value for money out of them.

And the perverse thing is, every time we manage to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, the powers-that-be use that to demonstrate that the system's working.

By fighting so hard to make this broken system work, we have been contributing to our own crisis.

Now, though, is the tipping point.

On 21 July, we will say goodbye to children who love our school and the opportunities it gives them. We will say goodbye to 15 excellent, experienced, caring TAs through no fault of their own. And our own values, a golden thread of inclusivity that runs through our school, will be indelibly compromised.

Those bustling first few days of September will still be filled with optimism and energy and, I hope, happiness because we won't stop trying to give every child the very best start possible.

But on the playground and in the classrooms on that first day back, we'll be struck as much by the familiar faces that aren't there as the excited new faces that are.

Nick Campion is a parent govenor at Hilton Primary School in Derbyshire

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