Massive Tory cuts to services crucial to some of UK’s most vulnerable children are creating hardship and fear. One area meets tonight to discuss community’s response and sees speakers including MPs and union leaders
A crucial meeting takes place tonight (Tuesday) in London to discuss the enormous damage caused by Tory attacks on funding and services for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
SEND Crisis Tower Hamlets meets from 7pm at Oaklands School, Old Bethnal Green Road E2 6PR. Speakers include National Education Union head Kevin Courtney and Labour’s MP/parliamentary candidate Rushanara Ali.
These services are life-changing for those who receive them, as this short video shows:
A spokesperson for SEND Crisis Tower Hamlets provided the SKWAWKBOX with a briefing that shows the scale of the crisis – one affecting the whole country to a similar degree, not just one part of London:
SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) encompasses a wide range of needs that can impact learning including language and communication, learning difficulties, physical disabilities, sensory impairment and social, emotional, behavioural and mental health needs. In Tower Hamlets around 8,000 children and young people (aged 2 to 25) have been identified as having SEND.
Depending on family choice, most children with SEND are educated in their local mainstream school. Some are educated in a local mainstream school where they are supported with a resource base and specialist staff. Others attend a special school or alternative provision for some or all of their education, where they receive higher levels of specialist support.
Tower Hamlets has 7 specialist resource bases, 6 special schools and 2 alternative provisions. Some children with high levels of need attend a special school outside of the borough according to need and with parental consultation (usually when their needs cannot be met in the borough).
The Education, Health and Care Plan
About 3,000 (or 37%) of those identified as having SEND have an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP). The EHCP, which has replaced the ‘Statement of Special Educational Needs’, is a legal document which sets out the child’s needs, what support they will receive and where they will be educated. If a child is getting SEND support but isn’t making as much progress as anticipated, or the school needs to provide more support, their family can ask for an EHCP.
The EHCP was introduced in 2014, and covers qualifying children and young adults up to the age of 25, while the Statement of SEN covered children up to the age of 18, if still in school. This has resulted in a growth in the population with this level of funding.
Government funding cuts for SEND support
· Nationally, councils are experiencing massive pressures and a real terms cut in SEND funding of 17% since 2015. A growth in the number of children and young people with SEND (partly fuelled by the increased age range of the EHCP) and a rise in the complexity of need, combined with the government’s decision to cut funding and its restriction on councils’ capacity to move funding between blocks (see below) have led to massive ‘overspend’ (or underfund!).
· Tower Hamlets is among a dozen or so London councils which have come under additional scrutiny by the DfE and are required to produce a ‘recovery plan’.
· Prior to 2014/15, funding for all pupils was allocated to local authorities through the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). It was a single amount and local authorities had the flexibility to determine how much to allocate to mainstream schools, special schools, early years and central local authority support functions (e.g. Tower Hamlets Support for Learning Service and Behaviour Support Team).
· Since then the DSG has been divided into 3 “blocks”: the schools block; high needs block; and the early years block. New rules mean councils cannot move money out of the schools block (e.g. to high needs) without the agreement of the Schools Forum (a consultative body of Head teachers, representing all the borough’s schools). In Tower Hamlets the Schools Forum has decided to reduce the amount of funding retained by the Council to spend on central services. Currently £4.7m of the high needs budget is centrally retained by the Council: £2.4m of that is spent on the SLS and BST.
· Mainstream schools are expected to pay the first £10,000 to meet any pupil’s needs from their own budget (including £6000 allocated for deprivation indicators including SEND). If the needs exceed this, then schools need to agree additional “top-up” funding with their local authority. This is linked to the EHCP. Top-up funding is taken from the high needs block. Tower Hamlets, like many councils, has set ‘bands’ which dictate the amount of money a pupil’s school will receive to support them. The bands are categorised from A to E and the amount in each band was tabulated in the consultation document.
· Although it provides top-up funding for support in mainstream schools, the majority of the high needs block funds places in special schools and alternative provision. These places are funded at £10,000 per place, plus additional top up funding depending on the needs of the pupil. These top up amounts are tabulated in the consultation document.
Proposed cuts in Tower Hamlets
· In 2018-19 Tower Hamlets spent more than £56 million meeting SEND needs, but it received only £49.7 million from the government, a shortfall of over £6 million
· Further government cuts mean that by 2022 the shortfall could reach £12 million
· The council reports a 43% increase in EHCPs but only a 5.2% increase in funding over the last 2 years.
· The Council proposes a cut of up to 7% to the ‘top up’ funding to schools for pupils with Education, Health and Care plans
· The Council is also planning to make cuts to the Support for Learning Service (SLS) and the Behaviour Support Team (BST), potentially stripping their work back to ‘statutory only’, focussing on pupils with EHCPs, so they aren’t able to carry out early intervention work, which saves money and improves outcomes.
The Support for Learning Service and the Behaviour Support Team
The Support for Learning Service and the Behaviour Support Team were created 23 years ago to improve inclusion and to avoid where possible sending children to special schools outside the borough at great social and economic cost. They form a network of some 40 specialist teachers and are highly rated and trusted by Tower Hamlets schools.
These services are integrated into school provision, focusing on early intervention and developing effective strategies for schools and pupils – which often means EHCPs are not necessary.
The Support for Learning Service incorporates the Language & Communication Team, Sensory Impairment Team, Specific Learning Difficulties Team, Advisory Teachers for pupils with physical disabilities and severe medical conditions and Advisory Teachers of ICT for children with SEND. Many of these conditions are low incidence.
Schools and other settings may have little or no previous experience of meeting the need. Specialist teachers work directly with education settings and with the families of babies and pre-school children who have a diagnosed hearing loss or visual impairment. They also work closely with health providers such as Speech & Language Therapists and hospital consultants to ensure optimal outcomes.
The teams prepare, train and support schools to include the child. Having a central dedicated team which can advise teaching staff is a cost effective way to target support where it is needed over time (rather than each school having to employ additioanl staff). Much of the work is extremely delicate and depends on strong relationships with schools and families, especially when advising on support for children with physical disabilities and medical needs, including those with cancer or leukaemia.
The Behaviour Support Team (part of a wider behaviour and attendance service) work with individual pupils with social, emotional and mental health needs, and with their schools. This work helps to ensure that fewer pupils are excluded from school. As a result, Tower Hamlets has very low levels of school exclusion in comparison to neighbouring boroughs, and especially among children with SEND. They also work with schools on improving whole school SEND.
These teams receive consistently positive feedback from schools and families, scoring at least 4.5 out of 5 in the annual school survey for the last decade.
The impact of the cuts
· Schools are already in crisis due to government cuts. If these new cuts go ahead, they will have even less capacity to meet the increasingly complex needs of pupils who have a legal right to be educated with mainstream peers in a local setting
· We know, for example, that all schools have cut their staffing levels, especially Teaching Assistants, and around half of all secondary schools now close early one day per week or fortnight.
· Cuts to the SLS and BST will severely reduce resources for early intervention and will result in more EHCPs, at greater cost to the borough
· There is a risk of court action being taken by a group of parents of children with SEND, as has been seen in other local authorities, as well as multiple individual legal challenges by families who are dissatisfied
· Rather than achieving savings, the proposed changes could serve to magnify inequalities and result in increased spending, a growth in children being sent out of borough and a shift in the management of schools away from the local authority and towards Academisation
What can Labour members do?
This is an attack on the most vulnerable members of our society. We need an angry and visible campaign for more money for SEND. This means joining with parents and unions, organising public assemblies and protests and linking up with campaigns across London to FIGHT! We need to challenge these government funding cuts at both the local and national level.
· Email Cllr Danny Hassell, Cabinet Member for Children, Schools and Young People to express your support for the campaign
· Speak to your local councillors about the cuts and find out what they are doing
· Join the local campaign to leaflet schools and speak to parents and staff to build a movement against the cuts
· Build support for and join the march from schools to the Austerity Games in Mile End Park
· Get involved in the campaign for London Labour councils to band together to resist the cuts and mount a legal challenge against the government
· Support NEU’s national campaign and invite NEU Reps to speak at your branch. You can contact them by emailing Alex Kenny, NEU Branch Secretary: firstname.lastname@example.org and Amanda Bentham, NEU Joint Rep at the SLS: email@example.com