Petition against special needs funding cuts taken to Westminster

Posted on: 2018-10-23 17:45:00

Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have taken their fight for more funding to the heart of Westminster, handing in a petition with 34,000 signatures to the education secretary, Damian Hinds.

They joined forces with teachers, school governors and councillors from all over England, accusing the government of failing to provide sufficient investment for schools and local councils to provide children with adequate SEND support.

The petition was delivered to the Department for Educationon Tuesday as MPs on the education select committee, who are investigating SEND provision and funding, heard damning evidence about the plight of families who face long delays as they fight to secure statutory support for their children.

MPs were told councils spent more than £70m over a three-year period fighting parents in tribunal cases, which local authorities go on to lose in almost nine out of 10 cases. The Conservative MP Lucy Allan said: “Is that not the most disgraceful waste of money in a sector that is so squeezed?"

The figure was likely to go up to £100m in December when the latest data would be available, the committee heard. Matt Keer, a father to two deaf children and a regular contributor to the Special Needs Jungle website for parents, told MPs that going through an appeal was “the most emotionally and financially draining thing I’ve ever done”.

Councils, which have been severely hit by austerity cuts in recent years, were also accused of stalling on decisions about care plans for children in order to delay having to fork out money from their budgets. The Labour MP Thelma Walker said parents had told her they had waited so long to have an education and health care plan (EHCP) put in place, which guarantees specialist support, they decided to home-school.

Justin Cooke, from the Ambitious about Autism charity, said a recent survey found 40% of parents had to wait more than 18 months for an EHCP, when it should take 20 weeks. The delays were partly because local authorities had lost expertise, he said, but also to keep money in their budgets.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils, has also highlighted the threat to support for the 5,000 youngest children with SEND in maintained nursery schools.

There are 397 maintained nurseries in England with more than 40,000 children, of which 13.8% have SEND, compared with 6.3% of three and four-year-olds in the general population.

The government has provided £55m in supplementary funding since a new funding formula was introduced in 2017 in recognition of the extra costs of maintained nursery schools, which employ more highly qualified staff.

This additional funding is set to end after 2019/20 and according to a survey of a sample of councils, six in 10 fear maintained nursery schools in their area will close if this funding is not protected and five in 10 also said the loss of funding would mean reduced support for children with SEND

The children and families minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “We are supporting councils and childcare providers to provide the right support for children with SEND through our disability access fund, worth £12.5million, and the early years national funding formula, which means councils must direct more funding to where need is higher. This is on top of the £6 billion of funding specifically for children with more complex special educational needs and disabilities.”

Sally Weale, Education Correspondent

Source: The Guardian

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