It has been five years since the Tory Government brought forward changes which were supposed to revolutionise the lives of children and learners with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
Unfortunately, as the Labour Party warned at the time, for the reforms to be a success the Government needed to be aware of exactly how many people would be affected and to adequately fund the new arrangements.
They ignored these warnings and the result has been one of total failure towards children, learners and their families.
The current Tory-led education system is one based on competition instead of collaboration, is one where the marketisation of education has left gaping holes in provision, accountability and support and where recruitment, retention and cuts across the board are harming all children, learners and those working in education but hitting those with SEND the hardest.
Schools have had £1.7billion cut from their budgets since 2015. In a recent survey, 94% of educators confirmed that the cuts were having a negative effect on the support that schools are able to give to SEND pupils.
The £365million announced in December 2018 to help local authorities create new places or improve facilities for SEND pupils is a one-off lump sum, not the sustainable funding that people are crying out for, and it does not close the shortfall in local authority funding for SEND support that the Local Government Association identified at £472million.
Recent steps to protect SEND funding where Government has allowed local authorities to transfer 0.5% of a school’s overall budget represents an inflexible policy that isn’t working, as evidenced by the 43 local authorities that have appealed asking for it to be relaxed to meet their local need. It is not surprising that a large majority of the successful appeals have been in Conservative-led authorities, playing politics with our children’s education.
The best intentions, will and desire of parents, local government, teachers and health professionals to do the best for learners with SEND are not being matched by the Government.
In 2017, more than 4,000 children with SEND were left without a school place. Nearly 9,000 have had their existing statement or education and healthcare plan taken away from them – not because they have moved school or have left school, but just because they have been denied the support that they were previously deemed in need of.
The number of children with SEND statements in alternative provision has increased by more than 50%, and the number of children facing fixed-period, permanent or even illegal exclusions remains disproportionate compared with their peers.
I am proud as Shadow Children’s Minister to be leading for Labour our SEND agenda, I am committed to a truly inclusive education system based on choice where children, parents and adult learners alike with SEND can attend mainstream or specialist provision. Because access to education should be a fundamental right for all no matter who they are, where they are from or what their circumstances are.