This is guest post written by Jade Page, who writes about autism on her blog The Autism Page. Jade is a full time mum to her two boys aged six and four. After her eldest son was diagnosed with autism she began blogging to share information and resources to help other parents. Jade lives with her husband and boys in Keynsham and is a Trustee of Bristol Autism Support.
What is the SEND National Crisis?
As parents to children with additional needs there are many challenges we face and one you may or may not be aware of is the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Crisis.
All children in the UK have the right to an education yet many children with special educational needs are being failed by a lack of suitable education. Parents can find themselves battling to get access to services which has a huge impact on families including a significant emotional and sometimes even financial strain.
The SEND Crisis campaign is parent led to raise awareness of the failures of the system for children & young people with SEND. In May 2019 families and teachers joined together to protest in 28 towns and cities including London, Leeds, Birmingham and Bristol.
Every SEND child will have different needs and as such will all have a different experience in accessing educational support. In my own case it was very straight forward for my eldest child but I had to fight to get the same support for my youngest.
The key issue is access to suitable education or educational support. The cuts to education have had a significant impact on schools ability to support students with SEND. Issues include:
- Funding shortfalls which have led to a reduction of teaching assistants and specialist support staff within schools.
- Exclusions (including unlawful exclusions when a child is sent home). Children with SEN are far more likely to be excluded than their classmates. Cuts to school budgets mean schools are often unable or unwilling to cope with more challenging students.
- Reduced timetables, children (often in reception) are placed on part-time / reduced timetables as the support they need is not available.
- Lack of suitable support leading to school refusal and this can lead to consequences for non-attendance.
- Lack of suitable specialist education provision available.
- Waiting time / access to diagnosis and or EHC plan assessments means many children are stuck in mainstream schools that are not suitable or not able to attend school at all.
What is the SEND National Crisis campaigning for?
The parent led SEND Crisis campaign has three main aims:
1. Funding to increase to match needs and ring-fenced for SEND.
2. Assessing, monitoring and accountability for improved Educational Outcomes for each child with SEND.
3. One consistent SEND process that all Local Authorities must follow.
What is happening in Bristol?
You may have noticed Bristol has been the focus for many SEND Crisis headlines. As part of its austerity cuts Bristol City Council cut £5 million from their SEND Budget. In response two mums took Bristol City Council to the High Court 2018. This was the first case of this kind and was expected to set a precedent for other cases (at the time there were 2 others waiting to be heard).
The Judge found in favour of the mums stating that the council had acted ‘unlawfully’. They also stated “There is no evidence, from the extensive paperwork evidencing the defendant’s [council] decision-making process, that members of the council had any regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, still less ‘actively promote’ children’s welfare, when making the decision to proceed with the proposed savings”. “Indeed, the decision-making process appears to be driven entirely from the standpoint of ensuring a balanced budget by 2020/21.”
In December 2019, a joint report by inspector Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found that the system for special educational needs in Bristol was “not fit for purpose and disturbingly poor”.
The report, which noted improvements had been made, also criticised council leaders for not tackling “with sufficient urgency” the number of fixed-term exclusions and absence of pupils with special education needs in schools, and that many parents and carers were simply unaware of what services were available to them.
The council’s response to the report was – “We fully accept the overall findings of the report, which highlights areas we can build on and where we must improve. We know that the findings of the report will not come as a surprise to the parents and carers of children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities, who demand and deserve better support.”
How to support your child and get access to educational support
If your child has additional needs the first person you should speak to about support is the school or pre-school special educational needs co-ordinator (SENDCo or SENCo). All education settings should have a designated SENDCo. The SENDCo is responsible for the day to day special education provision at a school or early years setting. It is their responsibility to ensure appropriate provision is accessible to meet the needs of children with special educational needs at their setting.
It can be hard for us to navigate what our children’s educational needs are when we don’t necessarily know what they need or what is available. However all schools have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils and they should all have a SEND and inclusion policy. These should be on the school website; if not ask the school for a copy.
What support are you entitled to?
The Bristol local offer sets out what is available. It includes a guide to school support for children with special educational needs.
All schools and early years settings should be monitoring a child’s progress. Special educational needs (SEN) support is available to any child that requires extra support. This may mean extra support such as 1-1 inclusion support. Essentially children with SEN can find it harder to learn (or find it difficult to learn in the typical way) and need additional support. The SENDCo should put a plan in place to support children with additional needs and monitor their progress. This works well for children that need support that is easily provided at the school or that just need support for a short period of time.
If a young person’s needs cannot be met by support that is usually available in a school or college then they will likely need an Education Health and Care (EHC) Plan. This is a legal document that sets out the education, health and care needs of a young person. Having an EHC Plan means that you can access additional educational support in mainstream (e.g. 1-1 time) or go to a specialist school. You cannot get a place at a specialist school without an EHC Plan.
Usually it is expected that SEN support is explored first but if your child’s needs are clear an EHCP needs assessment can be requested without SEN support stage.
Education Funding streams that your child may be eligible for:
- Early years entitlement
- Special Educational Needs support
- Inclusion Funding
- Transition Funding
These can all be discussed with your SENDCo/SENCo and the Bristol SEN team.
More information / support
In reality SENDCos/SENCos and the council staff are stretched and may not be able to provide the right support. You know your child best and if they are struggling and you are not getting the support you need then these organisations may be able to help you.
Independent Parent led organisations
- Bristol Autism Support
- Supportive Parents
- Bristol Parent Carers
- Not Fine in School
- Special Needs Jungle
- Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (known as IPSEA)
- SOS!SEN run SEND advice surgeries in Bristol
- The National Autistic Society Education rights service
- You can Contact Your Member of Parliament (MP) who can be an advocate for you
Facebook support groups
- Bristol SEND Justice
- Not Fine in School
- Bristol (and Surrounding Local Authorities) EHCP experiences
- Bristol SEND National Crisis
- Bristol Autism Network