Many parents,carers and teachers marched across the UK today protesting about funding cuts for special needs children in schools.
Siena Castellon one of my charity ambassadors helped deliver a petition alongside Poppy Rose and Sharon Pratt, who organised the London March which was signed by 11,000 people to 10 Downing Street.
Also, two of my Autism’s Got Talent performers Marie Gorton and Macauley Elvin showcased their talents in Parliament Square which received a fantastic applause. Siena also spoke eloquently sharing her concerns for the future of young people in special needs education.
‘It was really powerful to see so many families and supporters campaigning against special needs funding cuts in Parliament Square today .
‘It was 20 years ago when I started the fight for both my sons and so many others that couldn’t get the educational provision our children needed.
‘After my sons were at home for a couple of years receiving only five hours home tuition per week and I only received three hours respite a week. I became so tired and frustrated with the system in place. I was hungry for information and was reading many books and articles on how early intervention is crucial for our children. I could wait no longer so my husband and I and many other frustrated parents set up a school which is now 20 years old in September.
‘Have things got better ? Well. I probably wouldn’t be standing in Parliament Square today if they had been supporting the SEND National Crisis March.
‘I recently read an article in the media that no fewer than 78% of permanent exclusions are issued to those with SEND with 4,000 special needs students being excluded every week. Our children deserve better!
‘This whole SEND system has been changed so many times throughout the years and in my opinion making it more and more difficult for parents to navigate and climb over hurdles and learn the SEN language. Many parents trusted the LAs and many have now learned not to believe everything their Local Education Authority says. Reports sometimes written in such a way that they not worth the paper they are written on. Something my husband calls “Woolly Word Bingo”.
‘Parents spend endless hours attending endless meetings, stress and for many people family break down. Parents trying to do the right thing for their children are often dismissed and seen as pushy and being unreasonable.
‘When things were really bad, hostile and uncooperative it is common for that LA to blame parents for the difficulties a child was having at school rather than acknowledging it’s the result of an unmet need.’
- So that was 20 years ago, what has happened to make things better for children and young people who need essential support? 20 years is a long time, in fact you could fight World War 1 five times during this period.
- Statements of special educational needs have been replaced by Education, Health and Care plans. This is an attempt to collate educational, health and social care needs in one place and match these with the provision required to meet these needs.
- The rights allowing educational inclusion have been strengthened.
- Disability legislation, particularly the Equality Act 2010 have, in theory at least, strengthened the protections available to individuals with a disability.
- All in all, these developments are positive.
But what is it like now ?
- I would like to say that things are much better now than they used to be, but I can’t.
- As a charity these are the problems we hear about on a weekly basis:
- We still hear from schools who tell us that they are starved of the funding needed to effectively teach children with special educational needs
- Children and young people being excluded rather than having their needs met.
- Lengthy waits to obtain a diagnosis – on average five years!
- Lack of post-16 provision
- The list goes on and on…
- Parents still getting bogged down in SEN bureaucracy
What is to be done?
- The problems are many, but the solution in my opinion are relatively simple.
- The Government needs to recognise that to make the legislation work, they need to provide the right level of funding. At local level there needs to be more independent oversight to proven service failure. This means making local authorities genuinely accountable for failure.
- This has to happen. The last thing I want is to be here again in 20 years.
Dr Anna Kennedy OBE is an educator who has worked to provide an improved education and other facilities for children with autism spectrum disorders.