Today, Living Life to the Fullest researcher Professor Katherine Runswick-Cole spoke at one of 28 marches across the country organised by parents campaigning for better support for children with “SEND” in schools. We share her speech below.
“Way back in 2003, I began my PhD focusing on the experiences of parents who register an appeal with the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal to fight for the children’s educational rights. I was driven to study by my own family’s experience of the inequality in the education system. During my study, families told me about the exclusion and isolation their children faced, the inadequate and inappropriate support provided and, in some cases, the outright disability discrimination their children were met with in schools. Then, as now, parents were campaigning, but the rise of social media means that now local groups are connected with one another in ways that would not have been possible back in 2003.
Those connections have led to 28 marches across the country organised by parents campaigning for better support for children with “SEND” in schools on 30th May, 2019. This parent-led campaign attracted national media coverage, something parents, like me, could never have dreamed of in the past.
Working with disabled children and young people, and adults in research over the last decade or so (http://doeseverychildmatterpostblair.wordpress.com; http://bigsocietydis.wordpress.com; http://livinglifetothefullest.org), the educational disadvantage and discrimination disabled children and young people face has been a constant theme.
So, I was delighted to be invited to speak at the #SENDNationalCrisis rally in Leeds.
This is what I said …”
We’re here because the education system is broken.
And this broken system is breaking our children.
Too often the system sees our children as difficult to teach and as costing too much.
Our children are not the problem. The system is the problem.
The system has been underfunded and undervalued for years. And the results for our children have been catastrophic.
Our children are sent into isolation booths in schools.
Our children are 6 times more likely to be excluded than other children.
Our children are more likely to be bullied and abused in schools.
When they grow up our children are less likely to have a job, and our children are less likely to have their own front door.
As adults they will face health and social inequalities that put them at risk of early death.
Education is where this isolation, exclusion and discrimination begins.
When my son was little, I thought that the government didn’t know what life was like for disabled children and their families.
I thought that things would not be that bad if people knew. I thought that all I had to do was tell people and that things would change.
I was wrong, they already knew, and they still do know.
Despite spending millions on ‘reform’, the government has failed to mend this broken system.
They have simply messed around at the edges.
An EHCP is no more than a statement that might, just might, last a bit longer.
Social care and health are still not part of plans.
Local Authorities are still both the assessor and provider of support – it is still in their interests to limit resources.
The system is still complicated and adversarial and more and more families are going to Tribunal. Families are winning at Tribunal because Local Authorities continue to ignore the code of practice, hoping they won’t be found out.
We need to set the agenda for change.
So here’s a start. Our message is this:
Our children have a right to an education, and this is a human right. When you talk about our children’s special needs, you should be talking about their rights, and rights are not optional.
Stop asking what is wrong with our children and ask instead what support they need to live well.
Assessment must be done fairly and independently.
Monitor Tribunal decisions and take enforcement action against local authorities that ignore rulings.
Hold to account Local Authorities who have high levels of families going to appeal.
To local authorities, I say:
If you cannot give meet your legal duty to every child in education in your local authority, then you must go back to central government and challenge them. You must use the law. You too must fight back.
Finally, to local and central government, I say, listen.
Listen to children, listen to their families and to disabled people, they have been telling you how to reform this broken system so that no child is excluded and no family has to fight or live in fear.
We may struggle to be heard, we may be tired but we will support each other and we will not be ignored, we will not go away….
Professor Katherine Runswick-Cole, School of Education and iHuman, University of Sheffield