Children with learning difficulties and disabilities are treated like second class citizens and being left behind by the government, parents and teachers claimed at a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities meeting on Wednesday evening, organised by the Tower Hamlets #SENDcrisis campaign.
Over 100 concerned parents, teachers, support workers, and young people came out to criticise the national government’s plans to slash social care funding. The proposed cuts would be devastating to the 8,000 children in Tower Hamlets who have been identified as having SEND.
Parents shared heart-breaking stories about the struggles their children have faced, and spoke about how the cuts would make things worse and jeopardise their children’s futures.
Firdush Islam, 48, from Mile End, whose 15-year-old son Saihan has autism said: “Equality doesn’t exist for people with special needs children…With these cuts I don’t see my son going to university.”
Saihan then explained how school is already really hard for him because of apathetic teachers and bullying. He said: “From what I know, GCSEs are very important and what everyone gets to do…I don’t know if I can if my support is taken away… these cuts will hurt me badly.”
Michelle Hopkins, 35, from Bethnal Green, whose four-year-old son Jacob has cerebral palsy and is waiting for a school place, said: “It’s not right. He should be in school, there’s no reason a four-year-old can’t be included…he should be with his peers getting ready for nativity plays but he’s still not got a place…You want to cut a service that’s already at breaking point.”
Teachers reassured parents that they would be there for them despite the cuts.
Jack Walker, 31, a special needs teacher, said: “Schools are already suffering… We’re standing with you and willing to fight with you to make sure your children are treated like people.”
The evening included a panel and a keynote address. The keynote speaker, Iqbal Hasan, 19, spoke about his experience studying at University Arts London. Having grown up with a severe hearing impairment, he said the assistance he received throughout his education enabled him to go to university and become the person he is today.
He concluded: “I was devastated to hear about these cuts. Every child deserves this support, it’s their human right.” His words were met with a standing ovation.
Councillor Danny Hassel, cabinet member for children, schools and young people, was on the panel. He explained that council education funds had been in deficit for years and criticised the national government for failing these children.
He said: “I’m really sorry that we have to be here…parents are having to fight a system to get what their children are entitled to…It’s not only a lack of money, but the system itself is flawed.”
But parents were quick to criticise the council for not doing enough to stop the cuts and for badly managing their funds.
Justin Hopkins, 39, from Bethnal Green, said that if the council had no money, it was fiscally irresponsible to have large groups of police at train stations trying to catch teenagers skipping their £1.20 train fare.
Hassel responded that police and education funds come from separate pots, and are completely unrelated.
Candace Reading, 41, from Bethnal Green whose four-year-old son, Fin, has dwarfism, said: “You have to be honest with the people of Tower Hamlets…we need to stand up against [the government].”
It was clear that for everyone, the time for talking was over and action was needed. One parent called for a march in December.
Alex Kenny, London branch secretary for the National Education Union, said: “The stories are heart-breaking…but if we come together we can make a difference.”
At the end of the evening, everyone was encouraged to sign a giant £12 million invoice slip, which campaigners will be delivering to the Department of Education.