WHILE thousands of parents were cheering their kids on at school sports days this week, two mums were in a windowless courtroom in the Royal Courts of Justice fighting the Government for the basic right to educate their children.
Lorraine Heugh and Mary Riddell are furious their son and daughter, who have special educational needs, are being failed by the Government because the budget for high-needs education is just not keeping up with demand.
The mums are livid that years of battling their local authorities, taking their cases to tribunals — which they have won — has not led to the access to education to which their kids are legally entitled, as the money is not coming from central Government to local councils.
Lorraine and Mary are just two of thousands of parents across the country who have spent years battling on behalf of their disabled children because the system is broken.
Kids are being denied the chance to thrive, many are stuck at home because there’s no support, some are declining in health because equipment is not available, parents are at breaking point.
As Jenni Richards QC said in court: “The direct result is that children are not being properly educated.
“This has the potential to blight the lives of these children for ever, seriously limiting the scope for them living independent lives as adults.”
The landmark case is the first to hold the Chancellor Philip Hammond and Education Secretary Damian Hinds to account by angry parents accusing them of abandoning their children.
Together with The Sun’s Give It Back campaign — which is urging the Government to plug the £434million funding gap for care services for disabled children — it is lifting the lid on the scandal of lack of provision for our most vulnerable.
Children only get one chance at a decent education but this is where we are in 21st Century Britain — parents suing politicians for failing in their duty to offer that basic right.
The evidence is overwhelming. The court heard this week from Birmingham, North Yorkshire, Trafford, East Sussex, Hackney and Portsmouth councils, among others, that they were unable to meet the needs of their most vulnerable children because of underfunding by central Government.
An Ofsted Chief Inspector report from December noted an increase in the number of councils failing in their duties relating to special education.
The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, was quoted saying: “Ninety-four per cent of school leaders say they are finding it harder to provide resources for children with special educational needs and disability.”
A Local Government Association report said: “We face a crisis in funding special educational needs.”
The court heard evidence from charities that they were hearing from more and more families desperate to help their children. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. In 2014 changes to special needs legislation were brought in, inspired by the struggles then Prime Minister David Cameron had witnessed because of his own disabled son, Ivan.
Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) were introduced for each child that would last until they were 25 years old.
The plans set out what they legally needed to attend school and lead their most fulfilling lives.
Under the law, the plans would have to be updated yearly to allow for changes in the children’s needs.
But the money was not there to fund this. At the same time the number of children surviving with complex needs increased because of medical advances. Then cuts to local government funding from central Government meant they ran out of money. Parents whose lives are already difficult enough looking after highly complex children, with emotional and medical issues, were either fighting for provision to be set out in the EHCPs or fighting because it wasn’t being met.
The numbers of parents taking local authorities to tribunals has dramatically increased. The vast majority of families win. This all costs money.
Mums and dads have had to quit jobs to take on the full-time defence of their children.
Mary’s daughter Dakota, nine, from Birmingham, has complex needs including cerebral palsy and global development delay. Her EHCP was drawn up in 2016. It has not been updated for three years despite changes in the level of support she requires. When it was eventually amended it featured errors and her transport to school was withdrawn.
My own daughter has severe disabilities. I have lived these battles for ten years.
Teachers and support staff trying to do the best for her are doing so with one hand tied behind their backs.
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Worse, the Government just doesn’t seem to care. The next Prime Minister must address this scandal once and for all.
My daughter is now 17. It is too late for her but I do not want another generation of parents to feel like they have been abandoned by a society that should care for its most vulnerable.
The funding parents are asking for will save taxpayers money in the long run because it will enable children to thrive, parents to go back to work and stop expensive court cases.
Is your family affected by the cuts to funding? Tell us your story. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
WHERE TO GET HELP
Contact A Family Support And Advice, 0808 808 3555
Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSEA) – for specialist legal advice
Newlife – a charity that provides help with equipment
GOV.UK – to understand your child’s entitlements
National Autistic Society
youngSibs – great advice for brothers and sisters of a disabled child
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