Hackney Council proposes to cut special needs funding #PleaseStronglyDisagree

Hackney Council have proposed to cut school funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The proposal would say goodbye to thousands in funding for SEND pupils, increasing pressure on already overstretched schools, parents, and resources.

In an online survey, questions such as “To what extent do you agree with the Council’s proposals to introduce Additional Funding arrangements as detailed in the consultation document?” use subtly capitalised terms to deliberately mislead people. “Additional Funding” is not in fact referring to money that would be given on top of the current budget. Rather, the council is proposing it will replace the five levels of funding currently used to assess resource needs for SEND pupils. “Additional Funding” will replace levels one to three, imposing cuts of up to 90% in the most serious of cases. Levels four and five, reserved for those with severe and more complex needs, will be replaced by “Exceptional Funding”, cutting funding by over £1000.

It is this wording, as well as the cuts, that has lead parents to create the hashtag #PleaseStronglyDisgaree to ensure there is no confusion if you want to oppose the council’s plans.

“‘There are many pieces of legislation that are written to protect the rights of children with SEND…What makes this borough entitled to scrap a legal document?’”

Not only would the proposal cut SEND pupil funding, it would also say goodbye to the SEND Tribunal, who parents can currently appeal to if their child does not receive the correct funding or is refused an Educational Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Instead the Council have stated that all appeals would be directed back to the council instead of to a third party.

These plans would also leave many SEND pupils without legal standing. The EHCPs are legally binding documents and the council want to cut them for all pupils who would not be eligible for the highest band of funding. Furthermore, regardless of a pupils needs, funding would have to be applied for every school year, meaning no long term planning for pupils and no long term guarantees in the school budget.

One Hackney teaching assistant stated: “There are many pieces of legislation that are written to protect the rights of children with SEND. The Department of Education’s SEND Code of Practice makes it clear that all children are entitled to an education that is appropriate to their needs. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations (2014) makes it very clear: ‘Part 2, Article 29, Ceasing to maintain an EHC plan: A local authority may not cease to maintain an EHC plan where the person is under the age of 18 unless it determines that it is no longer necessary for special educational provision to be made for the child or young person in accordance with an EHC plan.’ What makes this borough entitled to scrap a legal document?”

“They have said that Hackney council don’t seem to have a full plan, couldn’t answer many of their questions, and yet want to implement these changes by April 2018”

The council have admitted not discussing these changes with their lawyers prior to a consultation. One Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) from a Hackney School attended the consultation with the council to discuss the proposal, accompanied by a School Governor, who also fathers a SEND pupil in the school. They have said that Hackney council don’t seem to have a full plan, couldn’t answer many of their questions, and yet want to implement these changes by April 2018.

The council claim that this proposal has been successfully implemented in two other London boroughs – Newham and Waltham Forest. However, when asked how they measured this success, the question could not be answered. The School Governor stated: “Toni Dawodu, who works for Hackney Council and was at the consultation, has all but agreed with me that these plans don’t make sense. This is a shambles.”

It is clear that cuts need to be made – but where and what are the most prominent questions. The most expensive pupils in Hackney cost the council £250,000 a year, with a lot of that money going on travel expenses to get them to their out of borough school. Some parents think this is where the money should be saved, taking a little from the few at the top, rather than by taking a lot from the many at the bottom.

Parents and schools are appealing for help to oppose this plan and for everyone to #PleaseStronglyDisagree in the online survey for which the deadline is 21st December 2017

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