Election 2019

General election 2019: Special needs 'crisis' dominates hustings

Hustings
Image caption The Lib Dems, Labour, Brexit Party and Greens all sent a representative but the Conservatives did not, so SEND Alliance "filled their chair with a snowflake"

Families of children with special educational needs (SEND) have asked candidates how they will tackle what they say is a "crisis" in Bristol.

Parents accused politicians of "playing games with their children's futures" and said they were "trying to pretend the problem doesn't exist".

A child needing a SEND plan should receive it within 20 weeks, but legal deadlines were missed in 98% of cases.

Bristol City Council said it could not comment because of the UK Election.

Jen Smith, from Bristol SEND Alliance, said the group wanted to "feel more confident candidates understand the crisis that's happening".

SEND plans are known as EHCP (Education, health and care plan) and they set out the needs, provision and school or college a young person with special needs should attend.

Local authorities have a statutory obligation to complete EHCPs for children and young people with special educational needs or a disability (SEND) within 20 weeks.

When candidates at a hustings expressed sympathy, they were told by members of the audience "we did not bring you here for your sympathy, we brought you here to make you accountable".

Image caption About 60 parents and carers attended the education hustings on Wednesday evening

Bristol SEND Alliance, which organised the hustings, is made up of Autism Independence, Bristol Independent SEND Community and SEND National Crisis Bristol.

Candidates from the Brexit Party (Robert de Vito Boutin), Green Party (Tony Dyer), Labour (Kerry McCarthy) and the Liberal Democrats (Nicholas Coombes) attended the hustings. The Conservatives were invited but did not send a representative.

Image caption Jen Smith, from Bristol Independent SEND community, has two autistic children

Ms Smith said they wanted to hear about "a solid strategy to deal with the crisis".

She said: "It's time SEND is taken seriously because it's impacting on the lives of children and young people - the future looks very bleak for them at the moment."

Image caption Mohammad Rashid has a 17-year-old son with severe autism and said his family were "going through real stress"

Mohammad Rashid said his son was currently "stranded with no place at any other institution" after finishing his secondary education this summer.

He said: "I hope the politicians don't make headline comments when they don't have any clue whatever they can deliver."

He said he hoped candidates would "pledge that special needs education for our children, in Bristol, can be met adequately and appropriately after years of austerity, cutbacks and underfunding".

Image caption Nura Aabe, from Autism Independence, recently took the council to tribunal over her's son's educational needs

Nura Aabe, from Autism Independence, who recently took the council to a tribunal after it initially turned down her school choice for her autistic son, said: "After what happened with Zak's tribunal, I wanted to become more politically active.

"Our children are being neglected and we have to make our politicians accountable. We are our children's voice."

Image caption Kerry Bailes said: "If working class kids are not going into further education, what chance do SEND children have?"

Labour member Kerry Bailes, from SEND National Crisis Bristol, said the council had not met the deadline for her seven-year-old son who has special needs.

She said: "I want the politicians to showcase their manifestos to ensure future generations are fully included in the education system.

"My whole family's life, for the last year, has stagnated with the education plan backlog and my son not being in education.

"It's meant we've all taken time off work to look after him. It has an impact on the whole family."

Party pledges for SEND:

The Green Party wants all SEND children to experience a "fully inclusive education" with access to their local school, which would mean accessible buildings, an inclusive curriculum and specially trained teachers.

Labour says it will provide the "necessary funding" for school-age pupils. Additionally the party wants to recruit new SEND co-ordinators as part of 150,000 additional early years staff.

The Lib Dems want to "end the crisis" of SEND funding by allocating "additional cash to local authorities", reducing the amount schools pay towards the cost of a child's needs,

The Conservatives have pledged to increase school funding by £7.1bn by 2022-23, which the party says includes more SEND places.

The Brexit Party makes no reference to SEND in its manifesto.

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