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Gavin Williamson must act on ‘golden opportunity’ to halt special needs crisis

Disabled children’s charities and campaigners have united to urge new Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to act fast and halt the crisis engulfing the special educational needs and disabilities system (SEND).

The SEND system has been decimated by a chronic lack of funding in recent years and more than a million children across England now run the risk of not getting the support they need at school. Last week, MPs from the Education Select Committee called for extra support for children with SEND, warning of a projected £1.2bn funding deficit.

In response, the National Deaf Children’s Society, the National Autistic Society, SEND Action and Mencap have come together to demand swift action to ensure the system starts delivering for every child who needs it.

After Boris Johnson pledged an additional £4.6bn for schools by 2022-23 during his election campaign, the organisations are now calling on Gavin Williamson to detail how much will be spent on SEND, how it will be distributed and how he will ensure that every child with SEND receives the right support.

Ian Noon, Chief Policy Advisor at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said:

“Every child in this country has been promised a world class education. Yet we have MPs warning of a £1.2bn shortfall in special educational needs provision, families marching in the streets and parents having to take legal action to get the right support for their child.

“These are the signs of a broken system that’s failing disabled children and the responsibility for it now falls to Gavin Williamson. This is a golden opportunity for him to outline exactly how the Government will change these children’s lives and finally provide the funding they so desperately rely on. The time to act is now, and more than a million children are depending on him.”

Tim Nicholls, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said:

“Every day we hear about autistic children being held back because of a lack of proper support in and out of school, with families having to fight hard to get any services. This has profound and sometimes lifelong consequences for young people with special educational needs, affecting their chances of growing up to get the job they want or live the life they choose.

“Too often the reasons for this lack of support are financial – and they are fixable. We call on the new Education Secretary to fix the special educational needs funding crisis in our schools, and improve the lives of over a million children in our country.”

Gillian Doherty runs the parent campaign network SEND Action, which recently took the Government to the High Court over the special needs funding crisis. She said:

“I work with thousands of parents of disabled children across the country and this funding crisis is a part of their everyday lives. The effects are heartbreaking to see.

“The new Government has brought new leadership to the Department for Education, but this counts for nothing without a radical change in direction. The time for burying their heads in the sand over this crisis is long gone and we need to know how, and when, money will get to the frontline. Only then can every disabled child start to get the support they need and the education they deserve.”

Ciara Lawrence, Campaigns Support Officer at Mencap, who has a learning disability, said:

“Children and young people with a learning disability are struggling to access the educational support they need, with some missing out on school completely. There is a genuine funding crisis in support for disabled children.

“I know from personal experience the difference the right support makes for children with a learning disability. Until I was 10, I was thought of as ‘naughty’ or ‘lazy’ because I couldn’t engage. As soon as my needs were recognised and the right support put in place, I flourished and I left school with five GCSEs.

“Every child should have the best possible start in life, so I’m asking Boris Johnson and Gavin Williamson – will you fund the support that children require, whether it is in the special education needs and disability system or more widely in health and social care?”

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