Warning over impact of cuts to Yorkshire’s special needs children

NAWN 1807181AM1 Francesca Adam-Smith with her mum Rachel.(1807181AM1)
NAWN 1807181AM1 Francesca Adam-Smith with her mum Rachel.(1807181AM1)
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Vulnerable young people are being impacted by relentless cuts to special needs services, a mother has warned after taking on Leeds City Council at a judicial review.

The authority, which had attempted to reduce her soon-to-be 16-year-old’s education from five days-a-week to three, conceded before the case came to court last month.

Every child should have equal access to education, Rachel Adam-Smith, from Boston Spa, said, urging other parents to challenge any changes which are brought in.

“Disabled children are being affected,” she said. “A lot of parents are just exhausted, many will just accept it. We are used to it, almost.

“Children have to stay in education until they’re 18. Those without disabilities have a choice over what they do - be it A Levels, college, or an apprenticeship.

“Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), they haven’t got that choice.

“They need one to one support, and education, to achieve their potential.”

Ms Adam-Smith’s daughter, Francesca, will be 16 in September. She has a rare genetic condition, and is a student at West Oaks Specialist School and College in Leeds.

Last March, her mother received a letter to say that from this coming term, post-16 education provision would be reduced to three days per week.

Her parents were advised that instead of attending school, the teenager may be able to do work experience or volunteering instead.

“Receiving a letter like that, when your child is severely disabled and can’t even dress themselves, just demonstrates a lack of thought,” said Ms Adam-Smith, who is a law student at the University of York.

“It was a smack in the teeth. The reality is that you’re going to be left at home caring for them.

“They become socially isolated. It drives a lot of parents down to poverty, as they have to give up work.

“Yes, she’s got a learning disability, but she absolutely loves interacting with other people, she enjoys going to school. Why shouldn’t she be able to?”

With legal aid funding, the teenager backed by the Public Law Project brought a judicial review of Leeds’ education funding policy, with the city council conceding prior to the hearing.

Acknowledging it has a duty to fund a five day per week education programme, the authority has now indicated that it is likely to do so for other students.

It comes after campaigners secured a victory last month in a battle over planned changes to transport services for young people with SEND.

Leeds City Council, which had proposed to issue young people with their own personal travel allowances instead of providing school transport from September, agreed in June to halt the scheme for a year.

It is believed the changes would have saved the authority up to £830,000 but sparked objections from parents, carers and students themselves, as well as MP Rachel Reeves.

Coun Jonathan Pryor, the executive member for learning, skills and employment at Leeds City Council, said “relentless” funding cuts from central government have made it increasingly difficult to meet the educational needs of young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

“Despite this, we as a city are committed to improving their outcomes and better preparing them for their transition to adulthood, and will continue to fight on their behalf,” he said.

“We are consulting widely with parents and have been working closely with our specialist education provision and representatives from health and care services to explore solutions that will give our young people with special educational needs and disability appropriate learning opportunities and help prepare them for adult life.

“We have put new measures in place to ensure that young people with SEND continue to receive five days provision when they move into post-16 learning.”