Like many in our community, I am deeply concerned about Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) provision both in Waltham Forest and further afield. These vulnerable children and their parents are facing uncertainty and stress brought on by the lack of central Government support.
In Waltham Forest we have seen a 20 per cent increase in demand since changes to SEND funding were introduced in 2014 - yet Government spending has failed to keep pace with this rising demand, a situation we have seen right across the country. We have been consulting on changes to how we allocate the funding - but after listening to parents’ concerns we are now pausing this to lobby Government for extra funding for children, parents, and schools alike.
I regularly hear from Waltham Forest parents whose children need extra support to get them to school, assist them in class environments, or whose physical disabilities require extra help ensuring they can be educated in the way others take for granted.
Parents like local resident Tina. Tina’s son Leo can get overwhelmed in hectic environments but with the support of staff he is finishing primary school this year and is looking forward to starting secondary school in the autumn.
Tina said: “Everyone deserves the right to fulfil their potential. Some children might struggle in social situations but excel at their studies; others may have amazing social skills but find it difficult to keep up with the rest of the class academically. Wherever their talents lie, with the right support every child can thrive.”
It's clear how important getting the right support has been for Tina and Leo. It can change young lives at an incredibly important stage of development. We are determined to empower everyone in Waltham Forest to make the most of their life chances and reach their full potential.
The Local Government Association estimates that there was a national funding gap for SEND provision of £500m in 2018/19. This is set to rise to £1.6bn in 2020/21. In Waltham Forest our Higher Needs Block budget, which is ringfenced to support SEND provision, has been received from the Government as a flat cash settlement since 2014 – while at the same time the demand on our services increased dramatically. Our Higher Needs Block budget is projected to be in a cumulative deficit of £4.2m by 2020/21 if no action is taken. This is completely unsustainable. Our children and young people deserve better.
I have written to the Chancellor to explain the importance of our SEND services and how they support families in Waltham Forest. Our Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families Cllr Grace Williams has also lobbied the Education Secretary, in person and by letter, on why it is vital that sustainable levels of additional funding for SEND provision are introduced as soon as possible. We have not yet had answers that provides any commitment to increasing support for these families in need.
This is why we have decided to delay taking a formal decision on SEND funding proposals following our consultation earlier this year. We will continue to engage with local parents and listen to them and their concerns, while we continue to lobby the Government to take the action that is so desperately needed.
Today, I am sending the letter below to the Education Secretary. We will keep up the pressure when a new administration is in place later in the summer. We will not give up our young people who all deserve every chance to succeed.