Parents in Leeds demonstrate over 'horrendous' lack of special needs provision for SEND children
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Local authorities are struggling to cope with a huge increase in the number of requests for EHCPs, which all pupils with extra needs are entitled to. In Leeds, applications have risen by around 60 per cent since the Covid pandemic.
But even those with an EHCP, which outlines how a pupil’s education should look, struggle to then access a school place or funding which adequately meets their child’s needs.
Many parents the LDRS spoke to on Thursday said they blamed the government for a lack of funding, although poor communication from councils in Leeds and beyond was also a common gripe.
Hayley Gledhill, from Seacroft, has an 11 year-old daughter who is affected by the delays with EHCPs.
“It feels like you’re just fighting against the system constantly,” she said. “Trying to get your head around everything you have to go through is mind-blowing.
“I blame the government. It starts from the top, if the funding isn’t in place.”
Other parents described trying to navigate the complex web of processes to secure help for their child as “exhausting” and “heart-breaking”.
Sarah McHugh said: “It’s stopping us being the parents we want to be. We shouldn’t be on the phone every night for hours and hours and hours.
“Instead we’re all knackered and we’re all at the end of what we can put up with and it’s taking away from their childhood. All we’re doing is fighting to get them an education, and it’s not right.”
Sandeep Baines, from Pudsey, helped organise the demonstration.
She’s spent the last two years fighting to get her eight year-old son, who has autism, into a specialist school.
“There are so many children out of education, in the wrong setting or in no setting at all,” she said. “It’s horrendous.
“It’s so draining and exhausting. My child is a joy but fighting to get what he needs is like banging my head against a brick wall.
“Our children have as much right to an education as any child. I hope the government will listen.”
Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for education, admitted the local authority was “struggling to keep on top” of EHCP applications.
But he claimed Leeds was being chronically underfunded for SEND provision by the government, which he branded an “absolute disgrace”.
Coun Pryor said: “We’re putting in extra resources, creating more SEND places ourselves and recruiting more case workers to work through applications. But it’s still not enough.”
Asked about common complaints from Leeds parents about poor communication within the system itself, Coun Pryor admitted that in some respects the authority “needs to do better”.
He added: “We’re currently going through a review of our EHCP process to make sure we do the best we can with what little money we have.
“But at the same time we need the government to wake up to the fact we’re not funded anywhere close to where we need to be, to deal with this issue.”
The government published a new improvement plan for special needs provision earlier this year, which it insisted would speed up the delivery of EHCPs for children who need them.
But responding in June to criticism the plan doesn’t go far enough, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “We’re creating bespoke plans with almost half of all local authorities to improve their SEND services, building new special schools where they are needed, cutting bureaucracy in the education, health and care plan process, and improving mediation for when families disagree with a local authority decision.”