Last month, the Tories signed a deal to slash new education, health, and care plans (EHCP) for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) by 20 percent. This follows previous promises that no such cuts would take place.
Far from reducing the pressure on SEND education, this will push it closer to breaking point.
EHCPs set out what support SEND children need: from the help of a teaching assistant (TA), to a place in a specialist school. In turn, these plans place a legal obligation on councils to meet these requirements.
Currently, only 400,000 of the 1.5 million SEND students in Britain have EHCPs. And after thirteen years of austerity, it is often the case that local authorities fail to meet the needs even of those with plans in place.
SEND schooling frequently runs at a deficit. Bristol City Council, for example, recently revealed that its education budget will face a £58 million deficit as soon as next year due to rising SEND demand.
Furthermore, services are being run without enough qualified staff. Earlier this year, one SEND school in Oxford had to construct a ‘rota of closure’, with students asked not to come in on certain days due to staff shortages.
Yet the Tories are now looking to cut support even more, further reducing access to education for some of the most vulnerable in society.
The government has disguised these cuts behind rhetoric about increasing ‘efficiency’ in SEND provision. The Tories’ claim is that people’s needs will be met before an EHCP is required.
Supposedly, this will lessen the burden placed on councils, which have struggled to keep up with EHCP demand. In some cases, children have not had a school placement for over a year.
Yet it is the Tories who have reduced council funding by 37 percent since 2010, creating this crisis. This has left councils trying to ‘manage’ austerity, balancing the provision of essential services against endless demands for cuts.
Of course, the government has no problem with public spending when it comes to filling the pockets of the bosses and bankers. ‘Operational improvement’ consultants Newton Europe, for example, were paid a healthy £19.5 million to concoct these EHCP adjustments.
But with some cash-strapped councils now declaring bankruptcy, there is no room in local government budgets to fulfil existing EHCPs – never mind finding the money to provide earlier, better support for SEND children.
Although particularly acute in SEND education, this is not an isolated crisis. The entire education system is on the brink, with schools across the country literally crumbling.
This new policy aims to sweep the issue of failing provisions for SEND under the rug. In doing so, it places greater stress on already underfunded and overstretched schools.
It is no wonder that increasing numbers of workers in the education sector have been going on strike.
Last month, for example, the Association of Education Psychologists – responsible for signing off all EHCPs – voted overwhelmingly to strike, with 100% of workers in 33 local authorities backing industrial action.
Kick out capitalism
The last few months have shown that workers across education have had enough.
Labour, meanwhile, have only been willing to criticise the Tories for being secretive about these EHCP cuts – rather than being honest about their austerity, as Starmer and co. would be!
There is no alternative to these cuts under capitalism. At the same time, the wealth and resources clearly exist to provide each and every student with high quality education, whether they have special needs or not.
To benefit society, this must be placed under the democratic control of the working class. Only then can parents, pupils, teachers, and communities ensure a future with access to education for all.