Leeds' families protest over special educational needs 'crisis'
A generation of young people are being lost to a "crisis" in education, campaigners warn, as hundreds gather in Leeds to protest over children's special needs support.
Rallies have been held across the country as a 12,000-strong petition is presented to Downing Street, with parents and families across Leeds joining demonstrations on the Headrow. There is the defiant teenager in a wheelchair, who has painted his own placards to wave. A toddler, running in anticipation up the Art Gallery stairs. And another younger boy, having penned a poem, standing proud against a backdrop of home-made banners. They are here to protest over funding for special educational needs, and amid concerns over a system in disarray. But they are determined. Because for the first time, they say, their voices are being heard. "That is all they want," said Nadia Turki, co-founder of the SEND National Crisis group and organiser of the Leeds rally. "For them, and their families, it's just one battle after the next. "It's relentless. And there isn't a parent here today that won't tell you the same thing."
Budget 'cuts' According to the National Education Union (NEU), special needs provision in England has lost out on £1.2bn since 2015, as funding to local authorities fails to keep pace with rising demand. Children in the city have seen High Needs budget cuts of £20m in the last two years alone, Leeds City Council's executive member for learning Coun Jonathan Pryor tells the YEP. "To cut that money, as need rises, is having huge consequences," he said. "That is not good enough. These are the most vulnerable people. The current funding is horrendous."
Frustration Rachel Court, from Morley, is a member of the campaigners' group Disability Empowerment Action Leeds (DEAL). Her son Oliver has a rare genetic disorder, physical and learning disabilities, and uses a wheelchair. Now aged 19, she said, his options are narrowing. "We are just so frustrated," said Ms Court. "Education has been left behind. Our children have been left behind."My son, Oliver, is in high need. We had a fantastic school, but post-19 he's lost his right to education. They need more than they get. They are being badly let down. "I have a younger son, he's got the world at his feet. His choices are massive. Oliver, in comparison, doesn't."
Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: "Our ambition is for every child, no matter the challenges they face, to have access to a world-class education that sets them up for life."Funding for the high needs budget is a priority for this Government and we know that councils and schools are facing pressures - that's why in December we provided an extra £250m up to 2020 to help manage these costs."This takes the total amount that we have allocated for high needs funding to £6.3bn this year, compared to £5bn in 2013."