Today, May 30th 2019, families and their supporters from all over the country are marching to show support for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and their right to an education equal to their abled counterparts.
The lead up to this has been long, complex and often confusing and most articles about the issue have been limited to individual developments.
I know many people may have missed a lot of what has been going on on this topic, as is easy enough to do with issues that don't affect everyone directly, so here is a lowdown of what's happened to bring us to this point.
In 2014, special education provision was reformed by the government, which replaced Special Needs Statements (a legally binding statement of what support the young person needs) with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and passed the cost over to the individual local councils.
These were supposed to give the young person and their parents a bigger say in the type of support they would get.
In theory, the local authority is legally obligated to provide all the support listed in someone's EHCP, but in practice most of the responsibility for this falls down to the individual schools, with the local council only stepping in if it can't be done, and in 2017 there were more than 4,000 young people who had an EHCP in place, but were receiving no support at all.
Between 2015 and 2018, the number of care plans for those with special educational needs grew by 33%, but funding only increased by 6%, leaving substantially less money per student. The National Education Union found from their research that spending on young people with SEND was not keeping up with demand in 93% of local councils.
A number of family have mounted legal challenges against their local authorities for cutting funding for SEND, including in Bristol where a high court judge ruled the cuts were unlawful and ordered for them to be reversed. Some others are taking central Government to the High Court over how it provides the funding to local authorities for SEND provisions.
The cuts have forced many schools to cut staff, such as teaching assistants who are usually the providers of the 1 to 1 support that many students require, and who, particularly in mainstream schools, are essential to the progress of student with SEN.
Concerningly, there are many reports of children being "off-rolled", being removed from the school's roll of students without being officially expelled, essentially being switched to involuntary homeschooling but usually without any route of appeal, as there is no expulsion to appeal. As well as this, many have been through weeks and weeks of exclusions to 'encourage' parents to take education into their own hands.
Many of these young people will spend a total of years out of school, with the bare minimum of help from teaching assistants hired by the local authority.
As a result of situations like these, as well as moving to independent schools and voluntarily homeschooled students, there are thought to be thousands of "lost" SEN young people.
Now, a group of parents say they are sick of the constant fighting and have started a campaign group called SEND National Crisis which has today delivered a 13,000 signature petition to Downing Street and organised rallies in support of the education of students with special educational needs and disabilities in 28 towns and cities across the UK.