Parents protest over special needs education which sees their children educated miles from home

AS PARENTS and teachers across the country protest over funding cuts to special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision, one parent has revealed her frustration in finding suitable education for her autistic son.

Wednesday, 29th May 2019, 9:00 pm
National Education Union vice president and Portsmouth teacher, Amanda Martin, claims children are not being allocated special school places due to a lack of space.

Lisa Marie Binns moved to Portsmouth in 2014, 

While living in Devon, her son, Oliver, now 16, went to a local special school alongside other autistic children. 

After moving to the city, Lisa claims the council placed Oliver, who is academically bright, in a unit designed for children with other emotional and behavioural needs.

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Speaking to The Observer newspaper, she said: ‘The other pupils didn’t understand him. He had nothing in common with them because he didn’t walk to school, he didn’t go out to the park, he didn’t do anything outside of the home without an adult. They were very different children and it was entirely the wrong environment. He has Tourette’s so he makes noises sometimes. The other children would pick up on it and bully him.’

After 18 months of struggle Lisa claims Oliver suffered a breakdown and left the school. After a tribunal hearing he was eventually sent to Grateley House boarding school, 50 miles away near Andover, where Lisa feels Oliver’s needs can be met.

Lisa added: ‘You can’t make provision for every type of need in every borough but there needs to be more provision, more widely available, closer to many more people.’

A Portsmouth City Council spokesman said: ‘The council is funding a place for Oliver at Grateley House without being required to do so by the tribunal. Ms Binns is exercising her right to seek changes in his education, health and care plan through the tribunal.  We can't comment in detail on individual cases. Our policy is to  meet children's needs in the most effective way possible, including both supporting mainstream schools to meet those needs and making special school places available. We have expanded, and are continuing to expand, our excellent special school provision, including a new free school for children with autism opening in September 2021.’

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showing that nationally almost 20,000 children with special educational needs are attending schools outside their council area. This constitutes a rise of nearly 18 per cent in two years.

For National Education Union vice president and Portsmouth teacher, Amanda Martin, the situation is symptomatic of a chronic lack of funding for local authorities to cater for the needs of SEND pupils. The NEU recently revealed that special needs provision has lost out on £1.2bn in real terms since 2015.

Ms Martin said: ‘I know of a number of pupils across the city who have been assessed and met the criteria for special school placements but are unable to access a place because there is simply no space at the city’s special schools. Pupils who remain in mainstream often need one to one support. In such cases the school has to pay the first £6000 with the same amount provided by the government but this doesn’t cover the cost of employing a teaching assistant. Schools end up having to take money out of budgets which are allocated for other areas.’

Concerns expressed by educationalists and families over SEND funding culminated with a national day of action on Thursday May 30 in which protests were held at 25 locations across England and Wales. Demonstrations included a rally in Parliament Square and submission of a petition to Downing Street with 14,000 signatures demanding increased SEND funding.  

As reported in The News, September saw 100 Hampshire headteachers join 2000 of their colleagues in marching on Parliament to demand increased funding for schools. One of their key demands was ‘an immediate £400 million cash injection to support the beleaguered SEND sector’.