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Children with special educational needs to stage funding protests | UK News

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Thousands of parents and young people with disabilities are set to take to the streets today, calling on ministers to end what they say is a funding crisis in special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) funding.

The campaign group SEND National Crisis will be delivering a 14,000-signature petition to Downing Street, but is also organising demonstrations in over 25 other locations across the country including Bristol, Birmingham, Worthing, Matlock and Colchester.

Protesters are not only calling on the government to allocate more money for special educational needs in this autumn’s Spending Review – they also want more legal and financial accountability over local authorities for the way they treat young people with SEND, and for assessments of children’s needs to be carried out independently from the funding bodies.

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There has been a rising demand for specialist provision, and schools are struggling to keep up

“We know that the funding for SEND has been cut – government will say it hasn’t but it hasn’t increased in real terms,” said Poppy Rose, co-founder of SEND National Crisis, whose son has autism.

“We also know that the funding isn’t ring-fenced so there’s issues within the general school budgets and there have been cuts to those, so we have local authorities and schools that are having to move money around and it’s not getting to where it should be.”

Charlie Lort-Phillips, from south London, said he has experienced such problems first-hand.

His three-year-old daughter Louisa has cerebral palsy, and it isn’t safe for her to attend a mainstream nursery. But after a local specialist one was closed down, there’s not enough funding for her to get a full-time place elsewhere.

“We had to fight quite hard to get her anything that was going to be suitable,” he told Sky News.

“There was a school called Greenmead which had a room available but not yet full – but we were told because there weren’t enough people to fill it, they wouldn’t be opening it.

“From my perspective as a parent, it should have been the other way round. I do think it’s probably indicative of the fact that people look at funding from the perspective of what can we save, how can we trim down the costs.”

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Poppy Rose, the co-founder of SEND National Crisis, says there have been cuts to funding

Louisa now receives some part-time education, but it’s still not enough to prepare her to attend a school full-time, he said.

“We were pushed to use a mainstream setting that wasn’t suitable for her needs and we then had to struggle against the council to get her any kind of provision.

“We do now have some provision but it’s a third of what she’s entitled to. And as a result the next stage of her education will be delayed because we don’t think she’s mentally ready to go full time when she should in September.”

There’s a rising demand for specialist provision, and schools are struggling to keep up since the introduction of Education, Health and Care Plans in 2014, which cover a broader range of conditions.

There has been a 33% increase in the number of children requiring additional support since 2015, but the National Education Union says special needs provision in England has lost out on £1.2bn in the same time frame.

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi 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.”

Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government provided an extra £250m up to 2020
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Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government provided an extra £250m up to 2020

He added: “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.”

Many parents have blamed their councils for the lack of provision – but the Local Government Association told Sky News that demand is outstripping the money they get from Whitehall.

“Councils are reaching the point where the money is simply not there to keep up with demand, pushing support for children with SEND to a tipping point,” they said.

“While it was good the government announced money for SEND last year, it must use the forthcoming Spending Review to plug the estimated special needs funding gap facing councils of up to £1.6bn by 2021.”

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