Thousands of families with children who have special educational needs and disabilities (Send) are to stage protests across England over funding cuts they say have left many pupils without adequate support and unable to attend school.
Parents, disabled children and their supporters will march in more than 25 locations on Thursday, including London, Bristol, Birmingham, Widnes, Worthing, Stevenage, Leamington Spa, Matlock, Colchester and Dorchester.
It is part of a campaign by families whose struggle to secure the support their children need to access education has pushed the issue of Send funding up the political agenda before the government’s forthcoming spending review.
Among the protesters will be Emma Parker, a primary school teacher from Durham whose 13-year-old son, James, will hand in a petition to Downing Street calling on the government to end what campaigners say is a national crisis in Send funding and delivery.
James has spent 29 months out of school over the past five years as a result of exclusions and reduced timetables. While his primary school worked hard to meet his needs, James was unable to find a secondary school that would accept him, so spent nine months at home without even a tutor.
“I’ve got a child who has not been in full-time education for five years,” Parker said. “He is struggling to engage with the curriculum. He’s a really, really bright little lad who has been broken by the education system. We want more money for Send. We don’t want our children to be deemed a drain on schools. We need schools to be fully funded and we need child adolescent mental health services to be fully funded.”
The government says funding has increased since the introduction of individual care plans for Send pupils as a result of new legislation in 2014. However, campaigners say the number of children and young people requiring support continues to rise, and demand is outstripping funds.
The Local Government Association estimates councils in England face a Send funding gap of more than £500m this year. Parents denied appropriate support for their children are resorting to legal battles to secure their children’s entitlement.
Families have taken their local authority to the high court to fight cuts to high-needs spending, and a judicial review case is pending against the government, accusing ministers of unlawfully underfunding special needs education.
It took Ella Sayce, of Weston-super-Mare, two years to get an autism diagnosis for her son Blake, five, and a year to finalise his care plan. “It’s been horrible. I’ve been made to feel like a bad parent. It’s barbaric.
“My fear is that we are going back to the 1960s where we were institutionalising people with these disabilities, so it was known about but not seen,” said Sayce, who will be protesting in Bristol. “I want to sustain Blake in mainstream education and give him the most normal life he possibly can get.”
The Department for Education recently announced a call for evidence on funding arrangements for Send pupils, which will run until the end of July. A year-long inquiry by the Commons education select committee, which will report later this year, was told repeatedly by witnesses that the system was not working.
Poppy Rose, the co-founder of Send National Crisis, said: “The government said austerity was over, but families say the lack of funding for support is having a detrimental effect on the mental health, life chances and outcomes of disabled children and young people.
“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.”
The Department of Education said: “Funding for the high needs budget is a priority for this government and we know that councils and schools are facing pressures –that’s why in December, we provided an extra £250m up to 2020 to help manage these costs. This takes the total amount that we have allocated for high needs funding to £6.3bn this year, compared to £5bn in 2013.
“At the same time, the education secretary has been clear that we are working closely with the sector as we approach the spending review, we have launched a call for evidence to make sure the funding system is getting money to the right places at the right time and we are revising the SEND Code of Practice to improve ways to identify and meet special educational needs.”