Thousands of parents and children gathered at venues around the country today to call for an end to the “crisis” in funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
In London, around 1,000 campaigners rallied outside the Houses of Parliament – before walking to 10 Downing Street to deliver a 12,000-name petition calling for more funding for children with SEND and more accountability in the system. The events were organised by campaign group SEND National Crisis.
“The government said austerity was over but families say the lack of funding for support is having a detrimental effect on the mental health, life chances and outcomes of disabled children and young people,” Poppy Rose, one of the organisers of the parent-led movement, said.
Research published earlier this year revealed that funding for children with the most severe SEND has been cut by 17 per cent per pupil over the past four years.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, which was supporting the event, said: “Teachers want their schools and classrooms to be inclusive as they can be. But they come up against a situation where you have children with extra needs but you don’t have the resources to meet their needs.”
Carrying banners declaring “Our kids matter” and “Spend on SEND”, the parents and children shared stories of how they have had to fight for support in school.
Lorraine Heugh, who is one of three parents due to challenge the Department for Education's SEND funding policy in the high court next month, said: “There is not enough funding. The system is in complete crisis. Children are being let down.”
“Our children deserve education which allows them to become the amazing adults we know then can be,” Emma Parker, parent of a child with autism and ADHD, told the rally in London.
“It’s not just money that matters it’s the culture,” Tania Tirraoro, founder of the Special Needs Jungle website and a parent of two boys with Asperger syndrome, said.
“Parents are having to go to tribunals to get redress and that is on top of parenting a child with SEN, other children, putting food on the table and paying the mortgage.
“Too many politicians have this bizarre idea that SEND is full of sharp-elbowed middle-class parents who are trying to get a gold star education for their ‘fake’ disabled child. We shouldn’t have to battle for the same opportunities that children without disabilities take for granted.”
And Beccy Forrow, senior campaigns advisor at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “It’s heartbreaking to see thousands of families having to march in the streets, but they refuse to stand by and watch as their children’s futures are sacrificed.”
The London rally was just one of more than 20 being held around the country.
Great to see so many families at today’s #SendNationalCrisis rally in Liverpool, demanding fair funding and resources for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Wonderful work by our own @Sarah4Clubmoor organising the demonstration. pic.twitter.com/GlDhdOTKDZ— Liverpool Walton CLP (@LpoolWaltonCLP) May 30, 2019
The march came on the day that new DfE statistics revealed a steep rise in the number of children with education, health and care plans – used to guarantee support for children with the most severe SEND, with 11 per cent more children covered by EHC plans than last year.
Dominic Blower, 12, from St Albans, who has physical disabilities, auditory processing difficulties and dyscalculia, was at the march with his mother Renata.
He uses a wheelchair and getting to the event in Parliament Square was an involved journey using the tube and taxis.
“It is important to be here,” Dominic said. "We are here to stop the SEND crisis and budget cuts.
“I think we will make a difference.”
Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Our ambition is for every child, no matter the challenges they face, to have access to a world-class education that sets them up for life.
"Funding for the high-needs budget is a priority for this government and we know that councils and schools are facing pressures – that’s why in December, we provided an extra £250 million up to 2020 to help manage these costs. This takes the total amount that we have allocated for high needs funding to £6.3 billion this year, compared to £5 billion in 2013.
“At the same time, the education secretary has been clear that we are working closely with the sector as we approach the spending review, we have launched a call for evidence to make sure the funding system is getting money to the right places at the right time and we are revising the SEND code of practice to improve ways to identify and meet special educational needs.”