Children are being failed at every turn say campaigners
Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are being let down by failing services and an uncaring local authority, according to claims by a lobby group calling for change.
SEND Crisis Warwickshire, whose members are parents and activists, says funding cuts have had a huge effect on SEND provision across the county and there is now massive pressure on children, parents and teachers.
Members gathered at County Hall last week for a silent protest to represent what they say are the voices of children with SEND who have been left without support for years.
The county council says its programme to transform SEND services in Warwickshire is moving forward and making a real difference to the lives of children.
last week the Herald spoke to a number of parents who have highlighted issues such as overstretched services, the difficulties of getting specialist provision for their children and a lengthy appeals process.
Oliver, a parent from Tysoe, said the system had failed his family at every turn.
“We’ve been going through this for eight years – the problem with Warwickshire is the provision is just not there,” he said. “We live in a rural setting and our son, Luke, started to develop problems when he was around seven or eight.
“Unfortunately his primary school had very little understanding of autism and in the end Luke was excluded because that was the only real tool they had to deal with the situation. It meant he no longer saw his friends, he didn’t get invited to parties, it made him – and us – feel ostracised.
“We took him out and home schooled him and he was assessed by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
“It took two years before he received the wrong diagnosis and eight years to get the correct diagnosis of ADHD and autism. The problem with CAMHS is that it is underfunded and completely overwhelmed by the number of people who need help.
“Eventually, when we got Luke into a special school, we were elated, we thought this would be his time to shine and that we could finally move forward, but essentially the school was a holding room for children who didn’t fit into mainstream education. There were 30 children with different needs, it was just chaos. He was excluded ten times before we decided we had to take him out. Luke is 14 now, he’s been rejected from ten schools, there’s got be something wrong with the system that a child is excluded like this. He currently gets eight hours provision per week – in mainstream settings children get 35 hours. How can that be right?
“The whole system just doesn’t want Luke, that’s the kind of thing that can destroy an individual.”
Another parent from Stratford told the Herald: “The agenda seems to be a push to have all children in mainstream schools, which in theory is a good thing, but that approach just doesn’t fit every child. We’re just so far away from that being feasible for some parents. I couldn’t say if this agenda is being driven by budget cuts, but it is certainly how it is being perceived.
“There are also significant delays in identifying children’s needs and this whole situation adds to the huge stress parents are under, it is exhausting anyway looking after a child with SEND.”
Another south Warwickshire parent said: “I’ve had to fight to get my child the education she needs and Warwickshire County Council put a barrister up against me. I’ve failed to get my daughter the right specialist provision, she’s in a resource base with 11 other children when she can only manage with one or two others. The council are just not considering the needs of children.
“Parents across the county are having to pay advocates to try to get their children properly assessed, it’s costing £10,000-£20,000 for them just to try and get education for their disabled children. There are families in crisis because of this, it’s causing mental health issues.
“Essentially, what they are offering is inclusion but without the elements these children need for inclusion, they are not able to be in that setting, it’s like trying to put a square peg in a round hole.”
Another south Warwickshire parent said: “I’ve got three children with autism and I’ve had to fight battles for all of them, it is just exhausting. One of my children is in a special school and the other two are in mainstream settings. If you try to do anything about it the county council just tell you to appeal, but that process takes months and months. One of my children is in Year 8 and if I appeal, I might as well write off the year because they will be in Year 9 before the appeal concludes.
“The local authority has much bigger resources, I can’t afford a solicitor, I have to do everything myself, but they just trample on you. I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.”
A spokesperson for SEND Crisis Warwickshire, said: “The county has a duty of care to our children and at the moment, in our opinion, they are failing their duty. The new inclusion programme recently launched by the county has led to a lack of parental choice, with many children being forced into mainstream provision when they need specialist provision. This comes amidst a backdrop of lack of adequate placements and more and more pressure being put upon teachers to work miracles with improper resources.
“The noises coming out of county are only positive, but this is not the feedback we get from families. We have been contacted by more than 150 Warwickshire families in the last year who have told us their often heart-breaking stories; many children face the wrong provision and are often under so much stress they fail to attend school and then become isolated which can lead to self-harm and suicide attempts.
“Other stories have sadly told us of family breakdowns. We are also in touch with a number of headteachers who are absolutely overwhelmed with the increase of children with SEND and the lack of resources they have to cope with this need. This has got to stop; teachers and families are being ignored.”
SEND Crisis Warwickshire has sent its own report on Warwickshire’s SEND provision to Ofsted ahead of the organisation’s own forthcoming inspection of the county’s services.
A Warwickshire County Council spokesperson said: “We are working together with partners, parents, carers and young people to improve the outcomes for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) by promoting inclusion in mainstream settings where suitable, giving schools the skills and resources to meet the needs of learners and building the confidence of parents and carers.
“We know that some families have previously experienced issues with SEND provision in the county and we are improving SEND provision in Warwickshire through our SEND and Inclusion Change Programme that started in 2020; we aim to provide every child with access to high quality education so they can achieve their full potential.
“We are committed to listening and engaging with parents and carers in the county and are hosting a series of open webinars to hear their views.”
The county says its programme includes investment in SEND transformation. And in a statement it added that the backlog of children and young people with disabilities with overdue assessments has been eliminated.
Cllr Jeff Morgan, portfolio holder for children’s services said: “In Warwickshire we have the highest aspirations for all our children and young people, including almost 14,000 with special educational needs and disabilities. As a local authority we believe that we have the right plan in place to deliver the best outcomes and in the last year, we have been working hard to fundamentally rethink and transform the way that we deliver local services through our SEND and Inclusion Change Programme.
“Whilst Covid has had an impact both here in Warwickshire and nationally, it hasn’t stopped good progress being made,
which is a testament to those working in SEND provision across the county.”