Hackney parents oppose proposals for cuts in support for disabled children

Hacnkey Special Education Crisis Pic: Hackney Special Education Crisis

Angry parents have launched  campaign against proposed financial cuts to Hackney schools catering for special education needs and disabilities children.

Hackney Council’s proposal for cuts of 11-90 per cent for the year 2018-2019, which is more than three times what it was in 2014-15, would render the council unable to meet its statutory responsibilities to the SEND children in mainstream and also special schools, argue parents. They say the new proposals would bypass the rights of these children who currently have or would have been entitled to education, health and care plans, under protection of the law.

Parents are concerned that the reduction in funding have been scheduled despite of the fact that mainstream SEND spending in Hackney came in under-budget and failed to meet actual demands in the borough. The cuts are being used to subside an overspending of £3 million in independent, non-maintained and mainstream special schools, where costs are increasing at more than 11 per cent every year.

Proposed SEND cuts Pic: Hackney Special Education Crisis

Gillian Doherty, whose son attends a mainstream primary school, said: “Our four-year-old suffers from Down’s Syndrome and we had to fight well over a year to get an education, health and care plan for him, which by law should take a maximum of twenty weeks. We had to go to Tribunal to get the weekly speech and language support he now has, to ensure he would have a 1:1 teaching assistant. We’re really worried we could lose this.”

Currently the lowest Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) band is Level 1 at £4,985 and the proposal would bring down the funding to £500, a reduction of 90 per cent. The level 5 banding, currently at £16,952 will be cut to £15,000, a cut of 11 per cent.

Five per cent cuts to all ECHP will be carried out regardless of whether the proposal goes ahead.

The Council has been in discussion with the Schools Forum for most of the year and a consultation process ends today.

The Hackney Independent  Forum for Parents and Carers of Children With Disabilities  which launched a website to campaign against the proposals, The Hackney Special Education Crisis ,   has been vocal about the use of misleading terms in the council’s consultation form- such as the council’s proposition that the consultation would bring in “additional funding”, and provide “better outcomes” for the pupils.

Luci Rose, another parent, added: “Without funding arrangements being secure and predictable, it is difficult for schools to recruit the high quality staff they need to support the most vulnerable children. It is essential that children who need an EHCP have one as this is what guarantees their access to support from external professionals. And none of this is clear in the consultation document.”

The proposal comes at a time when  the Chief Inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, has raised severe criticisms against the treatment of disadvantaged children in the country, with schools expelling such pupils to boost academic performance.

Hackney’s levels of school exclusions are already among the highest in the country and significantly higher than the London and national rates). Children with SEND are disproportionately represented, accounting for 62% of permanent exclusions. The affected parents are concerned that these proposals are likely to contribute to a further increase in exclusions.

Hackney Council failed to respond to a request for comment by time of publication.  However, Anne Canning, Group Director for Hackney Learning Trust told the Hackney Citizen: “It is highly unlikely that any existing pupils will see their funding affected. In the future funding differences are likely to be small and anyone who is assessed as needing an EHC Plan will receive one.

“This funding is aimed at children entering the system who may benefit from receiving funding quickly for specific support – it will not replace EHC Plans for children with exceptional needs who need one, and parents will continue to be involved in the assessment process to decide how top-up funding is allocated.”

She added: “We’re keen to get this right, so we’re planning to work with HiP and other parents and providers to work through the proposals.”

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