Tower Hamlets SEND Families Demand More from Mayor Biggs Than PR
158 Tower Hamlets parents, carers and grandparents of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) signed an open letter to the executive Mayor, John Biggs. The letter calls on him to:
- Cancel planned cuts to the Support for Learning service (SLS) and Behaviour Support Team (BASS).
- Cancel the cuts planned for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) funding.
- Refuse to let Tower Hamlets’ SEND children be treated like second class citizens.
There are 8,000 children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) attending Tower Hamlets Schools. 3,000 Tower Hamlets SEND children have Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).
It is worth noting that the borough has the highest level of child poverty in the country (up to 61% in some areas) and an above-average number of children with high needs.
EHCPs set out statutory obligations to meet an individual child’s needs. The SLS and the BASS are vital repositories of expertise that are crucial to facilitate SEND children’s education. It is undeniable that cuts proposed by John Biggs will render these services unsustainable. The reduction of EHCP funding, along with the support service cuts, could deprive many SEND children their human right to an education.
Last November, SEND Crisis Tower Hamlets held a public meeting with the support of the National Education Union (NEU) and Unison. It was a rare occasion for families to speak up about the struggles they are currently facing. Together, they vowed to continue the fight to stop the shameful attack on the educational futures of children with SEND. They asked the council to stand with them and work nationally for adequate funding before it is too late.
Was the March on Downing Street Just for Publicity?
This Friday 28 February 2020, parents and carers marched from Parliament to Downing Street to raise awareness of the National SEND Crisis, alongside new Poplar and Limehouse MP, Apsana Begum. MP Apsana Begum has been vocal about the equalities impact of planned budget cuts and supportive of parents. The parent’s campaign was met at Downing Street by executive Mayor John Biggs, Tower Hamlets Member for Children’s Services Danny Hassell, Deputy Mayor Rachel Blake, and Whip Kevin Brady along with Head Teachers and SEND children. They arrived in time to help deliver a petition and an invoice to Number 10 and to pose for photos.
The invoice was for £12 million representing Tower Hamlet’s projected overspend for the financial year 2021-22.
SEND Campaigners Cut Out
Parents were cut off from speaking and none were invited to present the invoice. This was despite working with union reps to lead the campaign up unto that point.
SEND Crisis Tower Hamlets has since made social media statements asking the Mayor and Cllr Danny Hassell to ensure their participation wasn’t just a photoshoot, and to reconsider the local cuts they have planned!
As the open letter says, ‘It is the council’s responsibility to ensure that ALL children in the borough can access their human right to an education.’
‘These cuts will result in less Teaching Assistants and resources for all children.’ -158 parents and family members
It is clear that Tower Hamlets SEND families are already struggling to get their children’s needs met. These proposed cuts will only cause further harm.
And Tower Hamlets Schools and Early intervention services have already faced devastating cuts. With the reduction of Children’s centres’ staff and sites, the eyes and ears trained to identify developmental delays are impaired. The closure of the three day nurseries providing specialist support means many children with SEND will not receive help at the most crucial time for their development.
Parents of children with additional needs are already struggling to find appropriate support for their children’s learning. At the SEND Crisis public meeting, parents and carers commented that their children were treated ‘like second class citizens.’ They also spoke of how important the Support for Learning Service and Behavioural Support Service had been for their families.
‘We were coming to terms with his severe cerebral palsy. The support services from Tower Hamlets were crucial and the visual impairment team have become a huge support to us as a family when times are tough. The window of opportunity is already closing in at four years old, what’s going to happen when he’s forty? What options will we give him as a society?’– Michelle, mother to 4-year-old Jacob with Cerebral Palsy, who has struggled to find her son a school place.
Questions Left Unanswered
SEND Crisis Tower Hamlets do understand that these cuts are a national issue due to budget constraints from the conservative government. Their concern is that in implementing cuts at this scale, Tower Hamlets council is likely to find itself in contravention of human rights law.
Parents demand answers to why the Mayor isn’t using the £7 million transition funding to make up the deficit? Couldn’t Tower Hamlets’ reserve funds be used to fully fund EHCP plans? Why won’t the council save the Support for Learning Service and the Behaviour Support Team? Why is Tower Hamlets council spending millions on consultants’ fees and inflated salaries for top council officers? Wouldn’t Tower Hamlets residents prefer adequate funding to core services ensuring children’s rights to education?
Campaigners are concerned that, despite his protestations, the Mayor’s budget does not indicate a true concern for people with disabilities.
Further Cuts Proposed to SEND Support from Tower Hamlets Council
The 2021-23 Tower Hamlets budget proposals included further cuts to disabled services:
- Closure of PD Day Opportunities Centre, Stepney Way, which provides support for disabled adults in independent living
- Cuts to the Early Years Service, including ‘possible reductions in the delivery of sessions and services at children’s centres’
- Reduction of Youth Centre Hubs
These proposed cuts will have a devastating effect on the future chances of children with additional needs in Tower Hamlets. If the Mayor wishes to prove that these cuts are out of his control he must explain why the £7 million is not being used. He needs to prove that there is no money left in any council reserves.
Why is his own salary, the salary of Chief Executive Will Tuckley and that of his cabinet sacrosanct while those with specialist skills to educate children dispensable? Why should these staff be prioritised over those that support children with SEND?