‘It is not fair and it is not right’: Top councillors pledge to join protest march over SEND cuts

Panellists at Hackney Labour’s Education Question Time, L to R: Deputy Mayor Anntoinette Bramble; student activist Daniel Walsh; chair Jan Culley; Garden School headteacher Pat Quigley MBE; Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union.

The borough’s top councillors have pledged their support to campaigners fighting budget cuts impacting Hackney’s most vulnerable children.

Making the announcement, Hackney’s Deputy Mayor Anntoinette Bramble (Lab, London Fields) said she “did not blame” parents taking the council to court over cuts to special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) funding, calling for the blame to be laid at the door of central government.

Hackney Town Hall saw angry demonstrations in February 2018 against cuts to high needs funding, and parents now await the outcome of a judicial review of the policy brought against the council by four families.

Hackney Special Education Crisis campaigner Amanda Elliot said: “I cannot overstate the anger about this across the country. There are families, who previously weren’t voices who were heard, who are in uproar to such an extent that parents around the country are taking action in court.

“What’s happened to them has been corrosive, with new reforms brought in which were not funded in any sensible way.

“Parents are desperate. The mental health impacts of your child’s needs not being met don’t just affect the child, they affect the whole family.”

The Children and Families Act came into force in 2014, extending the special educational needs system to young people up to the age of 25 and introducing Education Health and Care (EHC) plans, a council-assessed legal document entitling a young person to extra help so they can access education or training.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, hit out at the government during the meeting, arguing that the reform had not been funded sufficiently, stretching budgets across the country.

Courtney said: “Every part of education has been cut by this government, but the very worst cuts are with SEND. They are not only the same cuts that have happened in schools of not keeping pace with inflation, but they have also not kept pace with the pupil numbers.

“The government said they would allow people from 16-25 to get an  education and health care plan, and didn’t put any extra money in.

“What we’re seeing around the country is local authorities quite often taking money from the school’s budget to put into the SEND budget, and nobody should be facing those sorts of questions.”

Councils across the country face a £560m SEND funding shortfall, with London alone staring down a £78m gap.

Two mothers won their case challenging cuts to SEND provision by Bristol City Council in August, though a similar challenge in Surrey failed.

SEND National Crisis London will be holding a rally at Parliament Square on 30 May “to raise awareness of failings to those with SEND, their families and education providers who are expected to provide an appropriate education on continuous budget cuts”.

Pat Quigley, headteacher at the Garden School, warned that cuts in resources could directly lead to abuses such as ‘seclusionary practice,’ when children are illegally locked away by themselves when staff lack the resources to properly deal with challenging behaviour.

Quigley said: “It would be tragic if the clock got turned back. These children are the most vulnerable people in our society who are overlooked because on the whole parents are so stretched with so many other issues, they can’t come to meetings or demonstrations, so we’ve got to be their voice.

“Somebody said to me once, “You’ve got the Rolls-Royce version here, I’m sure you could make some efficiencies and cuts and still provide a reasonable service.”

“Well, I think the children deserve a Rolls-Royce service and we shouldn’t accept anything less. If we do, there’s a slippery slope where these children end up in situations that we don’t want to go.”

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble (Lab, London Fields), deputy mayor and cabinet member for education, young people and children’s social care, said: “I used to be a special educational needs co-ordinator in a primary school, so this is something that is really close to my heart, and is actually quite distressing.

“I don’t blame parents for taking councils to court. They are doing what they want to do for their children. We need to put the blame where this lies, and that is central government. You cannot change policies and legislation without funding. I am tired of this government giving councils more responsibility and no power. It is not fair and it is not right.”

Campaigners plan to hand in a petition to Downing Street at 12:00 on 30 May, with a rally planned in Parliament Square at 13:00.