Bristol MP demands more cash for children with special educational needs

Thangham Debonnaire wants the government to give more money to Bristol children with special educational needs.

In the House of Commons, the Bristol West MP called on Education Secretary Damien Hinds to reassure Bristol’s headteachers that children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) will be given the funding they need.

The government has promised an additional £350 million over the next two years to provide support for children with SEND.

Councils say there is a huge funding gap

But councils are warning that this is not enough and they face a massive shortfall to support some of our most vulnerable children.

New research from the Local Government Authority (LGA) says that the gap in funding for SEND could double to an estimated £806 million next year and may rise up to a £1.6 billion shortfall in 2020/21.

Antoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s Children’s and Young People Board said:  “The LGA has worked hard to raise concerns around the huge financial pressures on councils and schools to meet the growing demand for support for children with SEND,”

“Parents rightly expect and aspire to see that their child has the best possible education and support, and councils have done all they can to achieve this,

“However, councils are reaching the point where the money is simply not there to keep up with demand.”

Families are taking legal action

Increasingly desperate parents are following Bristol’s example and taking legal action.

Families of two Bristol children won a landmark case in August.  They challenged Bristol City Council in a Judicial Review in the High Court.

In the first court case of its kind, two Bristol families were successful and stopped Bristol City Council cutting £5 million from their budget. Image Credit: May Morton

Bristol City Council reallocated £5 million provided by the government to support children with SEND to plug gaps in its budget elsewhere.   In the first case of its kind, Judge Barry Cotter QC, ruled that it was unlawful to reduce their high needs budget.   He said there had been no regard for children’s welfare when deciding to make savings.

A Bristol Parent’s View

Jen Smith, is a Bristol parent fighting to get support for her children who both have SEND.  She is seeking an Educational Health and Care Plan (EHCP) which would legally protect the educational support they need.  She describes the stress on her and her family as “unbelievable”.   The law has strict guidelines on the time frame to assess and issue an EHCP.

She said: “I’ve been waiting for a long time for them to be assessed.  It’s been a nightmare, you need to know the law otherwise you get fobbed off,

“The impact has been devastating.  My son’s only going to school in the mornings and sometimes he runs away,

“There are no special school places and there’s a huge shortage of educational psychologists in Bristol which adds to the wait for assessment,

“I just want them to be able to get the education they deserve.”

Thangham Debonnaire wrote to Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees and Councillor Anna Keen, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills proposing to work together to ensure children in Bristol receive adequate support.  She said parents had told her the process of getting an EHCP was “frustrating, draining and exhausting.”

She wrote: “In an autism-focused surgery event I ran last year, half of the people attending were parents of children with autism and all described difficulties with attaining adequate SEND support and the damaging consequences for their children,”

“All too often, children have been issued with EHCPs only after their case has gone all the way to tribunal.  This process can take many months.  During this time, children may fall behind in school and ultimately fail to reach tier potential.  The process can also have a significant emotional cost for families,

“The children and families that come to my attention are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.” She said.

According to a Bristol Schools Forum meeting at the end of November, special schools in Bristol are full, particularly for children with autism and social and emotional mental health needs.

Bristol City Council Survey

Bristol city council have a survey about special educational needs open until 13 Jan 2019 . Image credit: May Morton

Bristol City Council has a survey open until 13 January 2019 and want Bristol families and carers with experience of special educational needs to give their views.  A formal consultation is planned for 2019.

“This survey is the first step in developing our new plan and we want to involve parents, carers and individuals with SEND in this process as much as possible,” said Councillor Anna Keen, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills.

“The views we receive now will help to shape more formal consultations starting early next year,

“We’ve been clear about the challenges in this area posed by the lack of proper funding from government and rising demand and we are committed to putting collaboration with families at the heart of how we move forward.”

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