Inclusive education campaigners are supporting parents and their disabled children today (Thursday) as they take part in marches around the country to highlight the special educational needs and disability (SEND) funding crisis.
Parents are calling for reform of the SEND system, increased funding, and improved accountability and assessment, as well as an end to a culture which “encourages the blaming, shaming and dismissal of parents of young people with SEND”.
Marches are set to take place across England and Wales, in more than 25 locations including Liverpool, Yorkshire, Sussex, Birmingham, Derby, Reading and Widnes, with one leading to the handover of a petition in Downing Street.
The SEND National Crisis campaign has been set up by two parents of disabled children, and it has been backed by The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), which said disabled pupils had been increasingly excluded from schools and pushed out of mainstream education.
Simone Aspis (pictured), ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, said: “The funding cuts are creating rife disablism and disability-related discrimination in our mainstream education system.
“For the first time in history, more disabled pupils with [education, health and care plans] are being educated in special schools than in mainstream ones.
“This needs to stop right now – this government has a duty to promote inclusive education among disabled pupils.”
Nadia Turki, one of the founders of SEND National Crisis, said: “We have decided to act instead of repeatedly say the words ‘we need to do something’.
“I’ve been saying this for almost two years now and nothing has changed to the effect of making a positive difference to education provisions and access for disabled children and young people.
“We believe that now is the time to stand together and let our voices and the voices of our young people be heard.”
She added: “This crisis is leaving thousands of individuals emotionally and physically exhausted due to the direct failings of our local authorities and the discrimination faced when trying to access their fundamental right to an education.
“There are so many of us struggling and battling an unfair system for our children or the people we care for and it is an exhausting process that hammers us into the ground daily.”
Next month, ALLFIE is also supporting a judicial review case being taken at the high court by three families with disabled children.
The families believe inadequate government funding is not allowing councils to fulfil their legal obligations to support disabled pupils.
ALLFIE wants the court to make “an explicit declaration” that the government’s level of funding of SEND is unlawful because it fails to provide the support that disabled pupils need to “flourish within mainstream education on a par with their non-disabled peers”.
It also wants new guidance that will make it clear that the government has to ensure sufficient funding for schools and councils to fulfil their legal duties to “promote the presumption of mainstream education free from disability-related discrimination”.
In response to plans for the march, children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Our ambition is for every child, no matter the challenges they face, to have access to a world class education that sets them up for life.
“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 £250 million up to 2020 to help manage these costs.
“This takes the total amount that we have allocated for high needs funding to £6.3 billion this year, compared to £5 billion 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.”
His department said it also planned to spend £31.6 million to train more educational psychologists, who play an important role in identifying special educational needs and contributing to education, health and care needs assessments.
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