Funding needed to tackle SEND “crisis”

Labour candidate for Finchley and Golders Green Sarah Sackman calls for more support for children with special educational needs

Sarah Sackman - Labour candidate for Finchley and Golders Green
Sarah Sackman, Labour candidate for Finchley and Golders Green

As the school year comes to a close, I’m reminded of sports days, summer fêtes and those fun-filled lessons at the tail end of term. For parents, it’s a time to reflect on what our children have achieved and to look forward to experiences ahead. But for parents of kids with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), this period can be fraught with worry and anxiety. 

These parents, like all others, want their children to be in the right setting, supported by expert teachers who can help them flourish. Yet for the past 14 years they have felt like a forgotten tribe, left behind by consecutive Tory governments. This neglect is due, not to the dedicated professionals in the sector, but to political decisions that have failed to prioritise children’s needs. 

Since 2019 there has been a 72% rise in the number of plans issued, but government funding to help local authorities meet that need has gone up only 42% – a shortfall that has had a devastating effect on children everywhere. Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the school leaders’ union (NAHT), has described the situation as a “full-blown crisis when it comes to SEND.” 

The actions of some local authorities have added insult to injury. Locally, the Conservatives tried to cut funding for play schemes for disabled children in Mapledown School in Cricklewood. Alongside local parents, I fought to stop the cuts proposed by Tory councillors and we kept the play schemes up and running. 

However, it is not sustainable to work on a case-by-case approach. There are too many gaps in the system. It needs reform. One 12-year-old in Finchley and Golders Green contacted me recently during a period of six months in which she had no school place at all, caught in a bureaucratic nightmare while professionals argued about which organisation should pay for her secondary education. This young girl told me that even in her mainstream primary school, she had felt unwanted and unwelcome.

Parents on the doorstep tell me regularly how sad and angry they are for their kids with SEND. The current system forces many parents to deplete their life savings, incur debt or even crowdfund to afford legal fees and additional assessments. Too many families have spent years and thousands of pounds fighting for the support their children need. This situation is unsustainable and unfair.

It is crucial that the next government prioritises support for families with SEND children as part of its education reform agenda. Labour is committed in our election manifesto to finding tailored solutions. This includes enhancing inclusivity and expertise in mainstream schools, while ensuring there are enough places in special schools for those with the most complex needs.

Labour plans to make admissions decisions reflect community needs and require all schools to cooperate with local authorities on admissions, SEND inclusion and place planning. This is a significant step forward. It’s high time we had a government that addresses the disparities in accessing Education, Health, and Care Plans (EHCPs) and ensures that local authorities fulfil their statutory duties.

Addressing SEND issues also involves improving access to diagnoses. Properly resourcing Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is critical to eliminate the long delays for autism and ADHD diagnoses. A diagnosis should be the starting point for support, not the end.

Luciana Berger, who was commissioned by Labour to make recommendations for a long-term, cross-government strategy for mental health, has highlighted the importance of providing mental health support in every school – a pledge which Labour has now made, and which could be transformative.

This is not just about individual children. It’s about the kind of society we want to build. We need a society where all young people have the opportunity to grow, to blossom and to contribute. Getting SEND provision right is essential for families today and for the long-term future of our country.

Our school days don’t have to be the best days of our lives, but they should never be the worst. Parents of all children, regardless of their needs, deserve more.

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