By Paul Feldman, Citizens Assembly South Tyneside - 14th October 2020
Parents and carers of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in South Tyneside have formed a new group called Arise South Tyneside to campaign on behalf of families in the area.
This follows a breakdown in relations between South Tyneside Council (STC) and the parent carer forum known as South Tyneside Stronger Together, who have been critical of the town hall’s response to SEND children’s needs, following results of a recent survey sent to their members and shared on Facebook.
In a statement, South Tyneside Stronger Together said they had had one of their most successful years to date but that the local council had “systematically wanted to take out independent views that challenge their objectives” and only wanted to “hear success stories of their work”.
On October 6, South Tyneside Stronger Together Facebook page reported: “It is with regret that we (the current committee) will no longer be providing this service as your Parent Carer Forum and this is effective immediately. It was a decision that was taken out of our hands, without our involvement and we are disappointed.”
Parent carer forums exist nationally and work in partnership with local authorities, schools, health and other providers and “challenge when changes or improvements need to be made”. They are funded by the Department for Education.
An Ofsted/Care Quality Commission report in 2019 was highly critical of the area’s provision. The report found that South Tyneside had made “insufficient progress” in implementing reforms. In a damning summary, the report said:
“As a result, children’s and young people’s needs are not identified, assessed and met in an effective way.”
The report said “important aspects of education, health and care (EHC) assessment and
planning” need further development.
Ofsted/CQC inspectors warned: “Local area leaders do not have a comprehensive enough understanding of the day-to-day experiences of children and young people with SEND, and their families.”
Joint commissioning to meet the needs of children and young people with SEND was not well established and that quality assurance systems were “not sufficiently robust”.
It found that too few families knew how to get the help and support that will make a
difference and that communication with professionals was “not strong enough”.
The report required the council to submit a written statement of action to explain how it would tackle “areas of significant weakness”. STC published its statment at the end of 2019.
It is understood that South Tyneside Stronger Together’s push for follow-up action on the statement met with resistance from STC. Moves to undermine South Tyneside Stronger Together led to the decision by the committee to form a new campaign.
“Following the Transition Meeting Monday [5 October 2020] , it became apparent that a new Parent Carer Forum will be set up in the near future, but we do not have access to any further information,” the committee said on October 6.
Q&A online sessions on what STC is calling a “a new engagement approach” are being held on Tuesday 21st October 10:30-11:00, Wednesday 22nd October 19:00-19:30 and Thursday 23rd October 13:30-14:00. Here is the link to book a place.
The ARISE committee statement said they would be launching a support group around the family. “This will enable us to continue our work with the families and carers of the children, young people and adults with SEND in South Tyneside. Our mission is and always will be, to support you in receiving the services and help you need, when you need it.”
The group is known as ARISE South Tyneside. ARISE stands for advocate, represent, inform, support and educate. They can be contacted on Facebook or by email at email@example.com
There are over 22,079 pupils in nursery, primary and secondary school in South Tyneside, with nearly 24% identified as having SEND. Of the approximately 4,500 children with SEND, some 476 pupils attend one of four special schools.
Children with special educational needs and disabilities have long struggled for equality and resources throughout the UK.
In 2019, it was reported that for the third year running, increasing numbers of families had had to resort to legal action to get the support they needed. The total of 6,374 appeals lodged in 2018-19 was almost double the number of three years earlier.
In May 2019, Parents, disabled children and their supporters marched in more than 25 locations, including London, Bristol, Birmingham, Widnes, Worthing, Stevenage, Leamington Spa, Matlock, Colchester and Dorchester over funding cuts that have left many pupils without adequate support.
Matters have worsened during the pandemic, with almost a fifth of SEND pupils absent from school as a result of inflexible coronavirus rules. According to recent data, 81% of children in England with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) at state-funded schools were in attendance on 24 September, compared with 88% of all children.
“We’re hearing from families of disabled children who have not been permitted to return or have been put on part-time timetables,” said Gillian Doherty of Send Action. “Other children have had the provision they rely on to access education reduced or removed. The gap between rhetoric and reality needs to be acknowledged so it can be addressed.”
Fran Morgan, founder of the Send social enterprise Square Peg, said that Covid was making a bad situation worse. “Anecdotally, we’ve heard of things like SEN hubs which can’t be opened because they’re mixed-year groups. And the guidance says the bubble has to be a year group, so we can’t have the SEN hub,” she said.
In a recent report into SEND funding, the National Audit Office found that local authorities were increasingly overspending their budgets for supporting pupils with high needs. In 2017-18, 122 local authorities (81.3%) overspent their schools high-needs budgets, including 84 that overspent by 5% or more.