We’re the country’s future. We demand our right to a properly funded education!

We’re the country’s future. We demand our right to a properly funded education!

Imagine living in a country where the government and politicians are robbing their youth of their futures? Where budget cuts have decimated the education system? Where students attempt to learn in crumbling buildings using out-of-date text books and equipment. Where parents are being asked to pay for essentials, such as toilet paper, paper and pens. Where some schools have a four-and-a half day school week and are resorting to renting out their school buildings and to allowing adverts on the school premises in a desperate attempt to stay afloat. I am not describing the education system of a third world country. I am describing the current UK education system.

"On 30 May 2019, I will be marching in London to raise awareness of the SEND crisis. There will be similar marches taking place across the country."
Yet what I have described is only the tip of the iceberg. Mahatma Gandhi once said that “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” The most vulnerable members of our society are children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

We live in a society that neglects its children with SEND. Instead of supporting and nurturing SEND students so that they can fulfil their potential, our politicians have eviscerated their support services and created a climate that encourages and rewards schools that deny SEND students a place at their school and that exclude SEND students.

You may have read the article by Nadia and Poppy last week who are organising parent-power marches to protest the lack of funding for SEND. It won’t be just parents taking to the streets. Young disabled people like myself are the ones suffering and we demand to be heard too!

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More children with SEND, less money to help them

According to the Department of Education, in 2018 approximately 14.6% of students had a special educational need or disability (SEND). Yet, it is estimated that there is a £1.6 billion shortfall in SEND funding. At the start of the 2018 school year, more than 2,000 students with SEND did not have a school place. The right to an education is a human right that applies to all children. Yet, SEND children are being treated like second class citizens.

Thousands of autistic, ADHD and other SEND students are being illegally excluded from school and deprived of an education for behaviour that is a characteristic of their disability. As councils continue to make further cuts to SEN budgets, parents are being forced to fight for their child’s education.

Sally Phillips, Siena Castellon and Tania Tirraoro with Siena holding her Neurodiversity Celebration Week sign
Siena Castellon (centre) with actress Sally Phillips and SNJ’s Tania Tirraoro at the Shine A Light Awards where Siena recently won the Young Person of the Year award

Getting appropriate SEND support and services for SEN students has become a brutal battle ground that pits parents against schools and councils. Desperate parents are being forced to take legal action. Last academic year, there were over 5,679 SEN tribunal appeals against council decisions, a 20% increase from the previous year.

Despite the dire state of the UK education system, a recent poll by the NAHT headteachers’ union and ComRes revealed that a third of MPs do not believe that schools in Britain are in the midst of a funding crisis. Their denial has to stop! It is time that UK politicians stop burying their head in the sand and that they acknowledge that our education system is broken.


Getting priorities straight

Although school under-funding has reached a crisis point, the UK government continues to allow international tech giants, such as Amazon, Google and Facebook to get away with paying paltry amounts of tax. In 2017, Amazon paid £4.6 million in tax, despite £8.8 billion in UK sales. UK politicians need to stop prioritising making the rich richer and need to stop putting the needs of the few ahead of those of the many. They need to start to prioritise investing in their youth by properly funding education and youth services, including youth mental health services.

On 30 May 2019, I will be marching in London to raise awareness of the SEND crisis. There will be similar marches taking place across the country. I will be marching because our politicians are asleep at the wheel. I believe that all children matter and that our politicians should be investing in our education and our future. I urge parents, families, young people, head teachers, SENCOs, teachers, school governors and anyone else who believes that SEND students deserve an appropriate education and appropriate support services to join me. Together we can make our voices heard. Together we can make a difference.

You can find SEND National Crisis March that will be taking place in London and across the United Kingdom, here on Facebook

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Siena Castellon

Founder at QL Mentoring
Siena Castellon is a 17-year old neurodiversity advocate and anti-bullying campaigner. Siena is autistic, dyslexic and dyspraxic, and has ADHD. In researching her conditions, she found that most of the resources were aimed at parents. When Siena was 13, she decided to change this my creating www.qlmentoring.com, a child-friendly website she designed to support and mentor children and young people with learning differences and autism.

Last year, Siena launched Neurodiversity Celebration Week, a campaign that aims to encourage schools to recognise the strengths of their neurodivergent students. Over 350 schools and over 318,000 students took part in Neurodiversity Celebration Week 2019. In 2020, Neurodiversity Celebration Week will take place on March 16-20.

Siena has won numerous national awards for her website and advocacy, including most recently winning the BBC Radio 1 Teen Hero Awards and being honoured with the British Citizen Youth Award. She is a Young Ambassador for the ADHD Foundation and for Anna Kennedy Online. Her book titled "The Spectrum Girls' Survival Guide: How To Be Awesome and Autistic" will me published by Jessica Kingsley Publishing in March 2020.
Siena Castellon
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