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(UK) SPED parents protest in London; assessments more than double in 7 yrs

June 21, 2023, BBC News: Braintree family joins special education needs protest

An Essex family who believe their child with special educational needs has been failed by the authorities has taken part in a protest calling for reform of the assessment system.

Holly Pratt's daughter Elsie has autism, meaning she requires special educational provision. Mrs Pratt, from Braintree, said the authorities were not doing enough to provide support for children like hers.

The government said it had put "significant investment" into support.

Families from across England gathered in Parliament Square in London on Wednesday to press for reform of the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) funding and assessment system.

Mrs Pratt first became concerned her daughter might have autism during the coronavirus lockdown, when she was aged two.

After Elsie started nursery, she requested an assessment for her, but professionals said one was not required.

Mrs Pratt said her daughter subsequently became withdrawn and isolated, so they moved her to another nursery, which diagnosed her to be on the autism spectrum.

"It literally changed our lives. She was given a one-to-one [carer], she was given the resources she needed. She was happy, she wouldn't cry when we dropped her off," she said. 'Every parent has to fight'

Elsie is due to start primary school in September and requires an education, health and care plan (EHC) for the specialist one-to-one support she will need, but this has been delayed.

"They have a 20-week legal framework and we're still in that process now, and we're still fighting for the correct [school] place for her. We're still trying to find the right funding for her as well," said Mrs Pratt.

"Our children are being let down, it's ridiculous. If a child breaks a leg they are seen straight away. Why is it any different with a child with a neurological disorder or special needs? It's not good enough."

Mrs Pratt said of her decision to protest: "I didn't choose this life for my daughter. Every parent has to fight, it should not be a fight for future parents."

The family was told by Essex County Council that Elsie would be granted level three funding of £10,800 per year for her education.

But her parents said she needed level five funding of £18,525 annually, which would give her one-to-one tuition at primary school.

Martin Pratt said securing an educational assessment and provision for his daughter had been a "battle"

Elsie's father, Martin Pratt, said: "I find it quite incredible that we have to battle. I want my daughter to have an education like anyone else.

"We want what's best for Elsie - yet it seems they give us a little bit instead of all the help. Then we have to go back to the table to get more."

Mr Pratt said without the correct school funding other children could be affected as well, while a teacher or assistant could be forced to take time away from others to give Elsie help. "If the need is there it should be given - she's entitled to an education. Help me put her in education and have the best life."

When highlighting the concerns of Elsie's parents, Essex County Council sent a statement from Tony Ball, cabinet member for education excellence, lifelong learning and employability. He said the authority's ambitions for children with SEND remained high.

"However, it's no secret that SEND services are under huge pressure nationally," he said.

The councillor added that the last seven years had seen the number of requests for an assessment of special needs more than double.

"We remain firmly committed to improving outcomes for all children and young people," he said.

The government said it was "putting significant investment into the high needs budget, which will be worth £10.1bn [$12.9B] by 2023-24 - a rise of over 50% over four years".

It added it was "working to make sure there is earlier intervention, consistent high standards and less bureaucracy where children do need additional support".


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