Hackney Council’s SEND ‘crisis’ group held no meetings for three months

Cllr Chris Kennedy, cabinet member for families, early years and play. Photograph: Hackney Council

Hackney Council has not held a single meeting of its task group on what it calls a special needs “funding crisis” three months after announcing it was setting up the group.

On 21 February, Deputy Mayor Anntoinette Bramble responded to protests outside the Town Hall against five per cent cuts to high needs funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) by announcing a “task and finish group” so parents can help “co-produce” a solution.

But nearly three months on, the group has yet to hold its first meeting.

A Hackney Council spokesperson said: “No meetings have been held yet.

“Shortly after the announcement that changes to funding would be paused, the council went into purdah ahead of the local elections.

“It’s important that parents and carers are involved in how things move forward – we wanted to be able to do that properly and purdah restricted that.”

The purdah period for the local elections in fact began on 27 March, more than a month after Deputy Mayor Bramble’s announcement.

Reshuffled: Deputy Mayor Anntoinette Bramble. Photograph: Hackney Council

The spokesperson added: “We’re now finalising plans for initial meetings and will be shortly contacting those who may want to get involved and who responded to the consultation.”

Meanwhile, the council’s new cabinet member in charge of SEND, Cllr Chris Kennedy, today rejected claims by the campaign group Hackney Special Education Crisis that the council has decided on more cuts to SEND funding.

Cllr Kennedy, in his first public statement about SEND since joining the cabinet this week, said: “No further decisions about the future funding or funding models for SEND in Hackney have been made.

“The government has effectively frozen funding for SEND since 2011 and we’ve chosen to fill the funding gap but, funding pressures are increasing across the entire council.”

He added: “It’s important that we work together to explore what can be done, while making sure that we do not lose sight of who can really make a difference here – the government.”

Cllr Kennedy was appointed cabinet member for families, early years and play this week by Mayor Philip Glanville, who said Kennedy would be “leading” on SEND – effectively taking over from Cllr Bramble.

Gillian Doherty, a spokesperson for Hackney Special Education Crisis, said the group has now secured legal aid for its judicial review against the cuts, after crowdfunding nearly £5,000 for its initial research and legal work.

Children protest SEND changes outside Hackney Town Hall

Outcry: children protest SEND changes outside Hackney Town Hall. Photograph: Hackney Citizen

Doherty is sceptical about the “task and finish group” having attended an informal meeting with councillors Bramble and Kennedy on 19 March.

“We had a meeting a while ago”, said Doherty. “Basically the upshot was the meeting was about co-reduction not co-production.”

She said parents and carers were being asked to choose which vital SEND services to cut, adding: “You can’t make five per cent cuts and still make the same level of provision.”

Doherty added: “If there isn’t proper accountability we’re concerned that we’re slipping away from the principal of inclusive education and reversing 40 years of progress.”

Hackney Council confirmed it has received a legal letter from Hackney Special Education Crisis.

A spokesperson said: “We have received the letter and stated in our initial response that the five per cent reduction in funding began in April 2018.

“This affects plans when they are reviewed so will not have affected many young people yet.

“In our response we also explained that we remain fully committed to delivering support to young people with special educational needs and explained the process for parents who have concerns about the support they are receiving.”