Report by James Cracknell
Waltham Forest Council has agreed cuts to funding for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) – despite appeals by parents.
After several rounds of consultations with teachers and families, the council’s ruling cabinet finally voted through its plans to cut SEND funding at a meeting last month, to help plug a £5.3m deficit. It came one week after the children and young people’s committee recommended a decision be deferred while other solutions are explored and further lobbying of government for more support takes place.
Waltham Forest SEND Crisis, a local campaign group opposing the council’s plans, staged a protest outside the town hall before the committee meeting on 12th March. Five parents addressed councillors to voice their concerns about the council’s plans, which would see ‘top-up funding’ for SEND pupils cut by 10% for students in the lowest two bands of need.
Laura Shanks, a parent of an autistic child, highlighted not only the impact of the cuts but the inadequacy of the council’s existing arrangements for children with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) – legal documents that outline the special needs each SEND pupil has. She told councillors: “These are not just numbers on a spreadsheet – these are children with special needs.
“This borough has a knack for providing vague EHCPs. It [the service] is a nonsensical mess. Funding should be allocated based on specified need – that is the law.
“Schools with a higher proportion of SEND children will be hit hardest. Parents are worried out of their minds and feel unsupported by our local authority.”
Stephanie Earle, a special needs teacher at Whitefield Academy Trust in Walthamstow and herself a parent of a SEND pupil, told the committee meeting: “All children in the borough will be impacted by these cuts. Our resources in cash terms are the same as they were eight years ago and somehow we are expected to provide the same levels of support in class.
“This is unfeasible… It will tip us over the edge.”
The council has previously demanded government raise SEND funding, to no avail. It insists it now has no choice but to make cuts to the service in Waltham Forest.
Grace Williams, cabinet member for children, said: “I understand parents will be worried about any changes and that this is an emotive subject.
“We take our statutory responsibilities very seriously and we are committed to maintaining and improving provision – we have a legal duty to do this as well as a moral duty.
“There is a national crisis in SEND funding and many local authorities are struggling…. Even if the government does do more we have still got this really big deficit.”
Parents are now trying to raise thousands of pounds to help fund a judicial review case against the council.