Many thousands of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are being denied the prospect of a bright future, campaigners warn, amid claims over funding shortfalls and a system in disarray.
Thousands of parents and young people are to gather in protest in at least 26 towns and cities across the England and Wales as a 12,000-strong petition is to be presented to Downing Street.
Support for vulnerable children is being curtailed by authorities’ struggle to meet legal duties, parents warn ahead of action outside Leeds Art Gallery this afternoon, adding this is no longer a national crisis, but a national scandal.
“We can no longer remain silent when our children are suffering for want of adequate Government funding,” said Huddersfield mother Nadia Turki, who co-founded the campaign group SEND National Crisis. “We are demanding a necessary change to the framework to ensure workable regulatory controls, and to ensure SEND funding is ring-fenced to ensure delivery precisely where it is most needed.”
Government reform in 2014 extended care plan provision to young people up to the age of 25, but campaigners argue spending on High Needs education has failed to keep pace.
Concerns have been mounting across Yorkshire since education authorities, in an unprecedented coalition late last year, issued a direct appeal to the Chancellor.
Support services were buckling for the most vulnerable, they warned, with funding diverted from already struggling schools.
There were further warnings in March when North Yorkshire County Council chief executive Richard Flinton issued a ‘call to arms’ over action, revealing overspends in this area for Yorkshire now totalled £123m since 2014 amid rising demand.
Today’s protests mark the first nationwide action of its kind, and are backed by the National Education Union. Since reform, SEND National Crisis claims, more disabled children are out of school, face exclusion or off-rolling, with hard-pressed families forced to fight for provision.
Families struggling to cope
“We have parents who have had to leave jobs so they can home educate,” Ms Turki told The Yorkshire Post. “We have children, struggling with their mental health.
“We’ve had parents re-mortgage homes, sell cars and take out loans. All they want is for their children to go to school - and to have access to the same education as anyone else.”
Campaign co-founder Poppy Rose said: “It is an intolerable situation that means access to rights, equality, inclusion and the prospect of a bright future are being wrongfully denied to many thousands of disabled children.
“This is not just a national crisis; it is a national scandal.”
Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said High Needs funding was a priority for Government, with an extra £250m allocated in December for councils until 2020.
A call for evidence has been issued by the Education Secretary ahead of the Spending Review, he added, as well as a revision of the SEND Code of Practice.
“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,” he 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.”