A poll of families who have a child or young person with SEND suggests that more than two million General Election votes are "up for grabs" among parents of disabled children. The survey indicated that Brexit is only the third most important issue for our families, as parents say they're more likely to #VoteSEND, i.e, to vote for the party that commits to the best support for disabled children.
The Government estimates there are 1.1 million disabled children and young people up to the age of 19 in the UK, which can be reasonably extrapolated to estimate that there are just over two million parents of disabled children.
SEND Community Alliance (SNJ, SEND Action and SEND National Crisis) joined the National Deaf Children’s Society and the Disabled Children's Partnership in carrying out the poll. We all call for every political party to commit to improving support for the UK’s 1.1 million disabled children. As you know we have published our own manifesto of wants and we will still be lobbying whoever wins to include these issues into their own plans.
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What does the poll show?
The poll of nearly 1,000 parents of disabled children, also shows that 71% are worried about the future of their child’s support and just 10% think their child currently gets the support they need. Half of the poll's respondents said support for their child was their primary issue, while the NHS (16%) came second. Education and Brexit (both 12%) came ahead of the economy (4%), the environment (3%) and crime (1%).
The TES has published a list of what the main parties have pledged for education and I've added to it from the manifestos about the most important pledges for families of children and young people with disabilities. That covers a wide range and I've found a number of interesting pledges, mainly in the Labour and Lib Dem manifestos.
The NDCS says the election manifestos will finally separate, “...who is prepared to give disabled children what they need, and who simply is not.” So let's look at that... and more than just education, what do the parties pledge of benefit to our families as a whole?
Specific to SEND, the Conservatives, the Tory-led Government made a one-year spending announcement of £700 million for SEND earlier in the autumn, which is only forecast to plug the gaps they themselves created so let's not put too much weight on that. As national political commentators have noted, their manifesto is light on detail - perhaps they're just happy with the way things are, who knows? So I've plucked out what there is, which isn't that much. Look, I recognise we may have some Conservative-voting readers, so I'll try not to be too cynical. But it's likely beyond me, the depth of my anger at how our families - and I am including my own - have been treated by the nasty party and their policies is too great. Deep breath.
Their manifesto includes:
- Create additional school places for pupils with special educational needs. (No detail)
- Increase school funding £7.1 billion extra by 2022-23 (The £14bn it shouts about is an obfuscation of double- and triple-accounting, so don't be fooled by that)
- Raise per-pupil funding levels to at least £5,000 per secondary pupil and £4,000 per primary pupil.
- Back headteachers in the use of exclusions. (Hmmm)
- Support Ofsted, stating their belief that the inspectorate “serves a valuable purpose”.
- Expand the number of alternative provision schools for pupils who have been excluded. (By those headteachers, above, who they've just pledged to support to boot them out)
- A new £1 billion fund to help create more affordable childcare, including before and after school and during the school holidays.
- Reduce the number of reassessments disabled people with lifelong conditions need to go through to get support (a system they set up - I will be writing about this soon)
- Publish a "National Strategy for Disabled People" before the end of 2020 to "look at ways to improve the benefits system, opportunities and access for disabled people in terms of housing, education, transport and jobs." Sound ominous - and again, no detail.
- We will make it easier for people with learning disabilities and autism to be discharged from hospital and improve how they are treated in law.
According to the Tes, Labour pledges more cash overall (£7.4 billion in real terms according to the Tes report) and, among other things include:
- Ensuring “pupils are taught by a qualified teacher, that every school is open for a full five days a week, and maximum class sizes of 30 for all primary school children”. I mean, whoever expected this to need to be a campaign pledge? It's the bare minimum an advanced society should expect, but sadly, one ours no longer has after almost a decade of cuts and financial starvation.
- Reform existing careers advice.
- Abolish tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants in both further and higher education, making lifelong learning accessible for all as part of a National Education Service. Bring back the Education Maintenance Allowance as in Wales.
- In early years, reverse cuts to Sure Start and create a Sure Start Plus, provide an additional 150,000 early years staff and 30 hours of free preschool education per week.
- Replace Ofsted with a new inspection body.
- Scrap Sats tests for key stages 1 and 2, as well as baseline assessments for early years pupils.
- Transfer budget control back to schools, making local authorities responsible for the delivery of education and giving them the power to open schools.
- Act to end off-rolling by making schools accountable for pupils’ outcomes after they leave their rolls.
- Introduce free school meals for all primary pupils, encourage breakfast clubs and tackle the cost of school uniforms.
- Ask the Social Justice Commission to advise on integrating private schools into the comprehensive school system. (Now this is something that is problematic for families with children at independent special schools, and it's a row back from earlier headlines)
- Double the funding of child and adolescent mental health services through an £845 million plan for Healthy Young Minds and establish a network of open access mental health hubs to enable more children to access mental health.
- Recruit almost 3,500 qualified counsellors to guarantee every child access to school counsellors.
Liberal Democrats manifesto
The Lib Dems manifesto or "Jo's plans for the future" as it's styled, is extensive. Of course, as with the other main parties, I'm cherry-picking what I feel is most important for families with disabled children and young people, but there is so much detail in this manifesto and so much of it is good, common sense, that it's hard to cut it down as much as the others. In any case, it's clear they have thought through "Jo's plans" in a way the Conservatives haven't bothered to.
- End the crisis in SEND funding by allocating additional cash to local authorities to halve the amount that schools pay towards the cost of a child’s Education Health and Care Plan. (We'd like to hear more about this)
- Give LEAs the powers and resources to act as Strategic Education Authorities for their area, including responsibility for places planning, exclusions, admissions, and SEND functions.
- Extend free school meals to all children in primary education and to all secondary school children whose families receive Universal Credit, as well as promoting school breakfast clubs.
- Training for teachers to identify mental health issues and provide immediate access for pupil support and counselling and give schools a statutory duty to promote the wellbeing of their pupils as part of the inspection framework. Tackle bullying in schools
- Free child-care for 2-4-year-olds and those aged 9 months-2 years when their parents/carers work. Make sure funding covers the actual cost of nursery provision.
- Invest £1 billion a year in Children’s Centres to support families and tackle inequalities in children’s health, development and life chances.
- Triple the Early Years Pupil Premium (to £1,000) to give extra help to disadvantaged children who are at risk of falling behind from the very beginning of their education.
- Reverse cuts to school funding, allowing schools to employ an extra 20,000 teachers and reduce class sizes, restoring them to 2015 levels per pupil with an emergency cash injection.
- Establish an independent body of education experts who will use the most up-to-date educational evidence to oversee any future curriculum changes. It would take these decisions out of the hands of politicians and put an end to unnecessary and often politically-motivated changes, which disrupt children’s learning and place an extra burden on teachers. (Something I think we can all get behind!)
- Scrapping existing mandatory SATs and replacing them with a formal, moderated teacher assessment. Scrap league tables and replace with a broader set of indicators including information about pupils’ and teachers’ wellbeing, as well as academic attainment.
- Replace Ofsted with a new HM Inspector of Schools. Require MATs to undergo external inspection
- Improve the quality of vocational education. Invest an extra £1 billion in Further Education funding.
- Introduce a ‘Young People’s Premium’ to help young people from disadvantaged homes stay in education.
- Legislate for a university Student Mental Health Charter.
- Reinstate maintenance grants for the poorest university students.
- Encourage greater use of health and social care joint commissioning
- Introduce a new requirement for professional regulation of all care home managers, who would also be required to have a relevant qualification.
- Introduce a statutory guarantee of regular respite breaks for unpaid carers, and require councils to make regular contact with carers to offer support and signpost services as well as a provide a package of carer benefits such as free leisure centre access, free bus travel for young carers, and self-referral to socially prescribed activities and courses.
- Raise the amount people can earn before losing their Carer’s Allowance from £123 to £150 a week, and reduce the number of hours’ care per week required to qualify for it.
All parties need to do better
“These results show just how concerned parents of disabled children have become and where their priorities lie in this election. Brexit may be an important issue to politicians, but more than two million parents are out there anxiously waiting to see who’s going to improve their children’s lives and secure the support they desperately rely on.
"With the right support, disabled children go on to achieve incredible things at school, at university and in the world of work, but they’re currently facing a very uncertain future. It’s time for every political party to take on this challenge and commit to providing the support these children need and the world class education they deserve. Only then will we see who is prepared to give disabled children what they need, and who simply is not.”Steve Haines, Director of Policy and Campaigns at the National Deaf Children’s Society.
Disabled children may need additional help at school or at home, including specialist care, equipment or visits from trained staff. However, in the survey of families, 43% said their child doesn’t get what they need, while almost half (47%) say their child only gets the right support “sometimes”.
The survey also shows that 71% are worried about the future of their child’s support, with just 8% having any confidence they will get what they need.
While it looks from the above pledges that the Lib Dems have thought more about what disabled children's families need, they are not likely, according to national polls, to be the ones holding the purse strings.
“This survey shows exactly what the parents of disabled children care about. Some of them have fought a lifelong battle to secure support for their child, while for others, it’s just beginning. What these parents have in common is a very real fear for their child’s future.
“There’s now a huge opportunity for political parties across the spectrum to look at the evidence, listen to parents and commit to making vital improvements to the support for disabled children. This is could be a turning point in the lives of 1.1 million children, and it’s vital that no party shies away.”Gillian Doherty, founder of SEND Action, and co-founder of SEND Community Alliance
In this election, there are many issues that are at the forefront of our minds. For a large number, it's Brexit or climate change or the NHS. And I care about those things too, deeply. But for me, and many thousands of families who have disabled family members, it's more than just a single policy. It's about who cares about the most vulnerable - because that's what makes us a civilised society.
It's certainly not my place to tell you which party to vote for. But what I do say, is please get out there and vote. As one of my heroes, Stephan A Schwartz says, compassionate and life-affirming changes have the most enduring impact in our society. I will be voting with this in mind. #VoteSEND
(If you're interested in reading more about what Stephan Schwartz means by compassionate, life-affirming change, read his book, The 8 Laws of Change: How to Be an Agent of Personal and Social Transformation)
Survey results in full:
- Which is the most important issue for you in this election? Support for disabled children (50.26%), the NHS (16%), Education (12.41%), Brexit (11.69%), the economy (3.59%), the environment (3.28%), crime/ police (0.62%), other (2.15%).
- Does your disabled child get the support they need? Yes always (10.27%), sometimes (46.82%), no not enough (42.92%).
- How do you feel about the future of your disabled child's support? Very confident (0.93%), quite confident (7.21%), not sure (20.49%), quite worried (34.81%), very worried (36.56%).
- How likely are you to vote for a party that commits to improving support for disabled children? Very likely (65.51%), quite likely (26.02%), not sure or N/A (6.94%), quite unlikely (0.61%), very unlikely (0.92%).
- See all poll results in depth here
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