Hackney’s Deputy Mayor has welcomed the launch of an inquiry by MPs into funding for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) – but campaigners dismissed the inquiry as an effort to “deflect negative publicity”.
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble said the inquiry by the Commons Education Committee into funding changes to SEND since 2014, announced last week, suggested the government was listening to the council’s lobbying campaign.
Hackney Council is cutting high needs SEND funding by five per cent in the financial year 2018/19 – a move it blames on funding cuts by central government.
Campaigners with the group Hackney Special Education Crisis are seeking a judicial review against SEND cuts and have crowdfunded £4,660 for their legal fees.
Cllr Bramble, responding to the inquiry, told the Hackney Citizen: “We have been campaigning and lobbying the government to address the growing crisis in the funding of SEND.
“It looks like they are now paying attention at last.”
She added: “We welcome the inquiry into the situation as it means we will have the opportunity to once again underline to them the need for increased funding, and that there can be no more hiding of the problem by them.”
But Gillian Doherty, a spokesperson for Hackney Special Education Crisis, was sceptical about the inquiry.
She told the Citizen: “The launch of the inquiry seems like a fairly transparent attempt to deflect negative publicity.
“We don’t need an inquiry to tell us what’s going wrong.
“Rising exclusions of pupils with special needs and increasing demand for special school places speak for themselves.
“So do increasing tribunals and complaints to the local government ombudsman.”
Doherty added: “What’s needed now is adequate funding and a clear system of accountability.
“We would strongly urge families, teaching staff and other professionals working with children with SEND to respond and make their voices heard.”
Cllr Bramble has set up a Task and Finish group to work with parents and carers to find a way to plug the £6 million SEND funding gap, and has called for a joint campaign against the government cuts.
Harini Iyengar, who is running for Mayor of Hackney for the Women’s Equality Party, said: “It is good news that the House of Commons Education Committee is launching an inquiry into special educational needs and disabilities in schools.”
Iyengar, a barrister who is also standing for council in Dalston ward, has put SEND funding at the top of her campaign in the local elections.
She said: “I have a specialist insight because of my work as an education barrister.
“Meeting the educational needs of children with disabilities and special needs should not be treated as an optional spend item on an accounts sheet – it is a vital investment in the future of Hackney.”
The Commons inquiry will not look at individual cases, and will accept written evidence until 14 June.