'It is an absolute crisis': Parents to march in protest over special needs funding
Parents fighting a daily battle to ensure their children with special needs get a proper education are taking to the streets to call on the government for extra funding.
A special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) march will be taking place in Norwich on May 30, one of many happening around the country, including in London.
The protesters are calling on the government to give more funding to local authorities and other support services to help children with complex needs, who are bearing the brunt of cuts in education and social care.
Among the marchers will be Verity McCormick from Hellesdon. She is fighting for appropriate provision for her son Oliver, six, who is non-verbal and has autism and developmental and learning difficulties.
"He is in a mainstream school but obviously it is very loud, he doesn't cope very well with his sensory issues. He spend all day hiding under the table or outside," she said.
"The main issue with that is when he comes home he absolutely explodes and can be aggressive and violent."
Mrs McCormick has applied to the county council get Oliver an education health and care plan (EHCP) to help him secure a place in a special school, but understands the competition he faces for a place.
"It is an absolute crisis because there are so many children in need. My son has slipped through the net at every available opportunity. The whole process is completely failing him," she said.
"The school are trying their very best, but it is not enough and we both know that. The funding they get doesn't even cover his one-to-one support."
READ MORE: Parents in 18-month battle for son's EHCP
Hayley Huckle from Sprowston got an EHCP for her son Tommy, eight, who has autism, while he was still in pre-school - but his mother says gaps in provision meant his speech problems were not properly addressed. He is struggling in mainstream junior school, despite getting appropriate support, and his parents are trying to get him a special school place.
"The mainstream infant school he was in kept promising they would get him a speech therapist which didn't happen, so we had to pay for private therapy. He was getting so frustrated because he was struggling to communicate," Mrs Huckle said.
"I finally got a budget for his therapy, which took two years of fighting.
"I think he needs more therapeutic help now because he has been set back."
Mrs Huckle, 39, is a trustee of the SENsational Families support group and said she would be marching and protesting for other families as well as her own.
She added: "There needs to be some money for children. There will be new schools opening but that does not help children who are struggling now."
Ed Maxfield, Liberal Democrat spokesman for children's services on Norfolk County Council, said in a letter to council leader Andrew Proctor and children's services cabinet member John Fisher that SEND services had come under increasing pressure in recent years.
"The children and families depending on those services are among the most vulnerable in our county and it is critically important that decisions about services are made based on need not on the basis of funding," he said.
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"The parents who are organising the march are keen to ensure it does not become a political football and instead brings together all those who have an interest in getting a better deal for SEND services from central government."
The Norwich SEND march will start in Chapelfield Gardens at 11.30am on Thursday, May 30.
'More and more children are being failed'
Bren Prendergast, a specialist teacher and EHCP adviser based in Norwich, has organised the city's march.
She said the financial pressures on both schools and local authorities is compromising the support they provide to special needs children and their families.
She said: "The local authority has the duty to identify children who have SEND and, where necessary, write an EHCP for them. These must be written without consideration of cost.
"However, local authorities do not want to write plans which are costly, due to inadequate funding. Schools then cannot provide as they do not receive enough funds.
"More and more children are being failed and are falling out of the system, under-achieving or developing mental ill-health.
"The less schools provide, the more pupils will be deemed to have SEND. We have a vicious negative feedback loop happening which pits everyone against each other. Appeals to the SEND tribunal are now at unprecedented levels.
"This situation must stop."
What is the situation in Norfolk?
Last year Norfolk County Council announced a £120m investment into special education provision in the county, including the building of at least three new special schools, providing 170 more places in specialist resource bases (SRBs) in mainstream schools and improving its EHCP processes.
The county council also successfully bid for central government funding to build a 170-place special school for children with social, emotional and mental health needs, autism spectrum disorders and speech, language and communication needs.
READ MORE: Half of 92 children waiting for school places in Norfolk have special needs
John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services, said: "There are significant funding pressures for every local authority in the country, as demand continue to rise.
"We have worked with our colleagues at the Local Government Association and the Eastern Regional Directors of Children's Services to explain our concerns, and raised the issue with local government minister Rishi Sunak.
"We are encouraged by reports earlier this week that the Treasury will be prioritising this area in the government's next spending review."