Mum's despair as Peterborough protesters demand action over ‘crisis’ for children with special educational needs

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Parents are protesting in the city centre this lunchtime as they demand action over the "crisis" in support for children with special educational needs.

As part of a national day of action, campaigners met outside the Town Hall in Bridge Street at 11am calling for an “end the national crisis in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) funding and delivery”.

The protest over SEND funding and support in Bridge Street

The protest over SEND funding and support in Bridge Street

The campaign is being led by SEND National Crisis which claims there have been cuts to school and college funding and that more disabled children have been “illegally excluded”.

RELATED: Peterborough protest over ‘crisis’ in schooling for children with special needs
One protester was Ann-Marie McDonall from Bretton who has four children - three of whom have autism.

Under the new system children with SEND receive Educational, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), which have replaced Statements. These are tailored plans to support the individual.

But while her youngest son was able to receive a Statement under the old system, Ann-Marie (46) said her daughter Stephanie has not received an EHCP which is putting a strain on the family.

Ann-Marie is extremely sensitive towards noises and likes to wear hoodies to block it out, but Ann-Marie said the school's dress code does not allow this.

"My daughter is 16. At the minute she goes to a school on a bespoke timetable - one hour a day, two hours a day," she said.

"She is supposed to be starting her exams, but with one or two hours a day in the classroom I'm not holding my breath she will do magnificently even though she is intelligent.

"She leaves school this year and goes to college and she will need an EHCP, but it's just so hard to get help. She should have had one years ago.

"It's worse now than for my 21-year-old who got a statement and had the help he needed. It helped him tremendously

"The school has so many children so it makes it hard for them, but I honestly feel she has been failed.

"I'm very stressed and can't plan to do anything. It's very exhausting and taking a toll on my health.

"I'm meeting with the council on June 20 and praying for an EHCP which will take a bit of stress off me. Even taking her for a meal is hard because she can't stand the chewing."

Peterborough co-ordinator Nazreen Bibi said: "I'm really frustrated and angry at the lack of funding for special educational needs, and I just think it's totally illegal and wrong for children to be excluded from school and deprived from the education that they need.

"I think the impact on families is incredible, and I don't think people realise how having children at home all day affects a family's functioning.

"In terms of funding it needs to go to the highest levels. So in Parliament it needs to be discussed, and all MPs need to be present and discussing it and looking at ways for improving services for children."

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “In December we provided an extra £250 million up to 2020 to help manage these costs.

“This takes the total amount that we have allocated for high needs funding to £6.3 billion this year, compared to £5 billion in 2013.”

Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council have created a joint assistant director post to focus on SEND, co-produced a joint SEND strategy and staged an SEND conference this year.

Cllr Lynne Ayres, city council cabinet member for education, said: “Nationally, the number of exclusions for pupils with SEND remains high and Peterborough has a similar profile to the national picture.

“We do everything we can to support SEND pupils. Here in Peterborough we have made the decision not to cut services, despite growing demand and no increase in the funding we receive for many years.”

Beccy Forrow, senior campaigns adviser at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “Make no mistake, the special educational needs system is in complete crisis. It’s heartbreaking that families in Peterborough have to march in the streets, but they refuse to stand by and watch as their children’s futures are sacrificed.

“The time for tired soundbites and kicking the can down the road is over. The Treasury and the Department for Education must urgently look at the mountains of evidence and consider the many simple, cost-effective solutions that could begin to avert this crisis.

“Everyone deserves the same start in life, but without immediate investment in this struggling system, children with special educational needs will continue to be left behind.”