Labour Are Letting Down Children With Special Educational Needs

December 6, 2017 12:56 PM
By Les Allen

Picture the school you want for your children. It's built around the children's needs. It's a welcoming, safe building filled with expert staff who will help all the children grow into amazing adults. The children want to be there because it's such a good place for them, where they can really feel at home and ready to learn.

What about if your children have special educational needs (SEN)? They still deserve all of that to help them flourish and be their best, but sometimes need it in different ways. Maybe they struggle in some situations and can panic, maybe even try to run off and put themselves in danger. Maybe they need some different equipment or differently set up classrooms to let them join in.

I know from my career as a teacher that mainstream schools have tried their best to provide for SEN children. But without dedicated specialist support this becomes a juggling act between meeting the needs of mainstream pupils while at the same time meeting the needs of SEN children.

When I was the Council's cabinet member for education, I saw even more of what children with special educational needs required, and what a difference a good school with the right expertise could make to them. Most children with special educational needs can lead fantastic lives, if they're given the right help at an early stage.

But this isn't what's happening under Derby's Labour council. Research is showing that there is a rising need for SEN places in local schools. And Brackensdale School, for example, is a fantastic resource, specifically adapted to help special educational needs children and staffed with trained, expert teachers. But it's having places cut from it right now by our Labour council. Instead they want to move children out into mainstream schools, needing huge amounts of extra spending to prepare those schools.

Time and again I hear of parents of children who the council are refusing to assess for special educational needs or that the council aren't providing the right support. And I hear from mainstream schools that without the specialist resources, usually staffing, they will not be able to provide effectively for SEN pupils allocated to their schools. The council wants to presume that integration into mainstream schools is right for pupils. But I know from my experience that so many children in schools like Brackensdale are there because they've already tried mainstream schools. The children need the extra help of a specialist school.

What will schools do when faced with a child they simply can't provide for? They're most likely to be excluded. But where will they go if specialist places are being reduced by 23 across the city? The child misses out on vital education and stores up problems for later in life, all because they were put in a school that was known not to be suitable.

Our Labour council say that this is not a matter of cutting funding or of saving money. But they don't understand that unless schools are given increased funding, at least in line with inflation, they will be able to afford less and less. What schools pay for this year will cost more next year. So to balance the books the schools will have to make savings. That's simply passing the problem from the council to individual schools.

Next year the Labour council thinks it will be more efficient to reduce SEN places by 23. They're closing successful, cost-effective units, while spending millions extra on building the same things again elsewhere. They appear to be trying to dodge legally required assessments of children and risk damaging children's futures by not giving them the schools they're legally entitled to. So many children, their parents and families are feeling the deep strain of just not getting what they are entitled to in law. And this doesn't just affect SEN children: it affects mainstream children already in mainstream schools. These schools won't be able to cope without the extra resources, usually staffing, that will enable them to provide a good education to all their pupils.

What we have at the moment already fails too many children. Labour's changes will make things worse for these most vulnerable children, not better. We need sensible changes, in partnership with parents, that can really provide what all of our children need. Not a return to ideas from the past that have already been tried and failed.

Please go to the council's consultation on SEN provision in Derby at http://www.derby.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/consultations/your-city-your-say-latest-consultations/ and tell them that Derby needs better for our children.