Special Needs Education in Leicestershire (Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland) – Parents say Leicestershire County Council – ‘Wake up!’
On 13th October 2022, there was a gathering at County Hall, which was advertised as a protest. It was organised by Zuffar Haq in order to point out the ongoing difficulties faced by parents of Special Educational needs children who were wanting Secondary school places for them.
I talked to some of the parents and it soon became clear that this gathering was also an opportunity to share experiences and begin to form their own support groups. A parent said, “I knew there was something wrong with my son when he was just over a year old, but he was 4 years old when he got an EHCP (Education Health Care Plan) which gave him some one to one support. I have needed more support all along. It’s hard to understand what is happening. I am still not able to access the Family Welfare Association as the waiting list is so long, and now there is the added anxiety as my son needs a secondary school place. He is diagnosed as autistic and probably suffers from dyslexia as well, though his autism stopped the completion of the dyslexia test! He suffers from severe anxiety and has odd days when his behaviour is extremely challenging – I call it ‘melt down’. I need to know that his educational needs will be met.”
One single mother was coping with three special needs children and only one of them had an EHCP (Educational Health Care Plan.) She explained the horrendous waiting list to see a paediatrician saying she was 900 on the list. Two of her children are threatening to kill themselves and are children with no friends because their anxiety manifests as bossy and inappropriate. The child with an EHCP is bright educationally but has had to move down a set so that he can share his support worker with other children. The schools themselves are so short of support staff and money to employ more support. They are also short of money to train staff. Another parent told me that her child’s support worker was used for nine weeks to cover exams. Then an autistic child is having to cope with 3 or 4 different people in a week.
A parent mentioned her child’s obsession with ‘bad behaviour points’. Children for example would tell him to ‘throw the glue’. When he did this he didn’t understand he was being ‘naughty’. He then reacted by acting as the teacher and giving out ‘bad behaviour points’ himself. Autistic children’s reaction to pressures often seems to have been described by these parents as violent, bossy and authoritarian. The exception was from a girl whose anxiety led to a complete ‘switch-off’, so she wasn’t learning anything.
So the message to Leicestershire Council was clear. Wake up! Don’t let our Special children down! Don’t fail our children! Find school places for all children!
All the parents at this 13th October meeting were facing the problems of uncertainty with a special Needs Child moving to secondary school and not knowing if their child will even get a school place.
A councillor informed me that Leicestershire County Council received £100 million less than the average for other County Councils. Lack of funds has meant the Council can’t follow their own policies.
So a protest was needed to ‘crack a nut’. The next stage is to organise more discussion meetings, so that the experiences of these parents of Special Needs children can start to be heard and the politicians and officers at County Hall can talk and listen to the stakeholders who support these parents and the parents themselves. Together this has the potential to lead to different outcomes. It gives the hope that partnerships, self help groups and stronger, caring institutions can develop so these special children can be well supported in school.