Luke Pollard MP participated in a recent SEND debate in the House of Commons. The entirety of the debate can be found here: http://bit.ly/2V1Xr1x. Below is a summary of Luke’s thoughts on the crisis in the SEND program.
Individuals with special needs deserve more from this government’s SEND policy
Education is a right of every child in this country and the extra support required for SEND children is essential to fulfill that right. As the sixth richest economy in the world we should be leading the way in empowering children with disabilities, but we are slipping behind. The students of Plymouth and across the UK are being failed by a SEND system that is not giving them the support that they need.
The Government has committed itself to providing quality education to young people with SEND until age 25. But it is not on track to making this a reality. Last year even the United Nations warned that Britain has a failing education system that is “violating the international rights of disabled people.”
I would like to thank the incredible staff in Plymouth and across the UK who work with SEND children. I also want to pay tribute to the parents of children with SEND because it is the parents who are providing the safety net to these children not the state anymore. Parents are fighting to secure a proper education for their children. In restoring this safety net, we will allow parents to go back to being parents.
There is a genuine and urgent need to improve the system because many local authorities and schools do not have enough money to meet their statutory obligations for children with SEND. Plymouth has lost 60p on the pound because of austerity. This is resulting in severely pared back services making life very difficult for families and schools needing to access SEND support. SEND students have a valuable contribution to make to our society but need extra support to help them achieve their potential. The Minister of Education must increase High Needs Block funding to local authorities, which will allow Plymouth City Council and local schools to provide appropriate support to students with complex needs.
This national crisis in SEND is being felt in the far south west because Ministers continue to apply the same historic funding levels to schools in the constituency I represent.
In November last year Plymouth City Council agreed to a motion that said:
“This Council believes that the Government’s refusal to provide additional funding for educational support of young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is driving deep and harmful cuts to support and services that many families rely upon. Research reveals that currently over 2,000 young people with SEND have no access to education.”
This lack of support for SEND is failing to enhance the lives of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, support parents, and shows a cruel lack of regard and compassion for children with special needs.
Special education needs, such as learning difficulties and Autism spectrum disorders, need to be supported by education policy – we need to restore that safety net. The process of special needs identification involves an assessment by a local authority for an education, health, and care plan. But these plans are often set up to fail due to limited funding.
The government should be leading the way when it comes to integration through school placement policies. But due to a lack of funding and poor planning, geographic inequalities are creating a “postcode lottery.”
In 2018, the percentage of students with special education needs increased to 14.6% in England.3 But nationally SEND made up 46.7% of permanent exclusions in 2016-17.
One constituent in the area I represent has a 13-year-old son with autism. They have been forced to use a home tutor in order to provide education for their son after being dismissed from both mainstream and specialist schools. This is an expensive alternative for families that have been turned away by school institutions. The evaluation strategies for local education authorities must be reviewed to reduce home schooling and ‘off rolling’ where children get passed from one school to the next.
I worry that the heroes of our society, the teachers, are having to do more and more with less and less. More funding must be allocated to teachers for SEND training and classroom supplies. Plymouth has the lowest education spent per student in the United Kingdom. Our teachers on the frontline for supporting children with SEND, need to be supported themselves. They must be given the proper tools to create a safe, inclusive learning environment.
Another parent in Plymouth told me she feels let down by the education system because her son’s teachers are not properly trained in the education strategies and behavioral techniques necessary for his specific needs. Extensive SEND teacher training, such as developmental psychology education and adapted curriculum strategies, should be mandatory in all schools.
Austerity has eroded the safety net of students with SEND to the point where they are being systematically failed. The students in Plymouth are facing the same challenges of underfunding, off-rolling, and stigma as students across the country. There have been positive steps forward, but we need a new approach to funding, investment in training and skills, and a restoration of the safety net.
When you cut the support and services for SEND programs, you cut at the potential of that child. If the government wants to fulfill their commitment to offer SEND children lifelong learning, they need to look at increasing the funds for the SEND programme and create an inclusive, thriving education system in the UK.