Mother Amanda Wilkins joined a group of parents from Swindon as they travelled to Bath to take part in a protest about proposed cuts to the SEND (Special Educational Needs & Disabilities) system in the UK.
By Amanda Wilkins
Earlier this year the Government announced their plans to deliver ‘Better value in SEND education’. It’s being billed as a positive move forwards but it’s actually a huge backwards step. SEND services are already stretched beyond capacity. So many children are currently without a school place all across the country, many are being refused Early Help Care Plans despite eligibility and many are forced into part time timetables and given illegal exclusions. The idea of further cutting an already dangerously underfunded system further seems disgraceful and immoral but it looks like it’s going to happen anyway.
For any teacher, SEND parent or childcare professional this proposal screams DISASTER! The SEND system is already in a complete mess and unfit for purpose. Long term chronic underfunding has taken a massive toll, resulting in children all across the country being out of education and failed on a monumental scale. If these cuts are to go ahead it really doesn’t bear thinking about. We are already in crisis, I’m not sure what the level after crisis is. I don’t even want to think about it.
My child's request for an EHCP assessment was rejected this summer, I appealed and won. Obviously I won. Of course he is eligible, he has autism, ADHD and currently requires full time one to one support in his mainstream school. Why it was rejected in the first place still rankles as it resulted in added stress, further waiting and unnecessary worry for us all.
Mainstream primary and secondary schools are amazing. I’m a huge fan of teachers, TAs and all the support staff. They do a fantastic job for the majority of young people. For some of our SEND children with the correct help in place (support that is obtained via an EHCP) mainstream schools can work and they can thrive. The problem with reducing EHCPs is that the pupils with SEND that could cope in mainstream will no longer be able to manage. This leads to parents being effectively forced to de-register their children as their needs are not being met. They won’t be able to go into a specialist setting as there already aren’t enough spaces, currently roughly 100 applicants for every 20 places. The only option therefore is to home educate and I think we all learnt the hard way during lockdown that it’s incredibly challenging for a parent to become a teacher for a neurotypical child, let alone a child with additional needs.
What can be done to stop these dreadful reforms and improve the education system for its most vulnerable students, you ask? Good question. We do what we always do. We fight. We write to our local MPs and councillors (who mostly ignore us - if you’re reading this you know who you are). We beg them for meetings and we Tweet them. This one works quite well surprisingly, they often tend to respond to a Tweet, perhaps because it’s so public and visible. We contact our local newspapers and media outlets. We shout long and loud enough in the vain hope that someone, somewhere will listen.
The Swindon protest party arrived in Bath via train at around 10.45am. The atmosphere was one of calm determination. In the square Mums, Dads, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and teachers all gathered together to try their best to be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. There were many children, lots currently without a school place, gathered in the hope that this protest might actually make a difference. Bright, colourful signs were raised, whistles were blown, chants were shouted. Leaflets were handed out to passers by explaining the protest and children danced around blowing bubbles. Complete strangers laughed and cried together. There was a sense of excitement at seeing the news crews. Everyone has a story to tell, everyone wants to share it and they all want someone to listen. Every story will break your heart.
The earlier rain held off and the sun shone down brightly upon us. On that sunny, autumn day outside of Bath Abbey and all across the country we came together as one voice, fighting united in the hope that we may make a difference, that someone might actually listen and help us. We all held hands sharing our hearts and our stories. On Friday the 13th October 2023 for a few hours we didn’t feel quite so alone.
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