“Support for children with special educational needs & disabilities (SEND) is faltering. It is trapped in a vicious downward spiral, as Tory cuts & increased demand have overburdened the system while thousands miss out on the assistance they need.”Apsana Begum MP.
Why I Support the NEU Strike Over Support for Learning Service Cuts
This week a group of local National Education Union (NEU) members went on strike – fighting against cuts to Tower Hamlets Support for Learning Service (SLS), which supports many children in the borough who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
If the proposed restructure were to go through, from April approximately half of the posts in the borough’s SLS would be cut – having a disproportionate effect on local women and BAME communities. This is despite it being well documented that children with SEND continue to suffer during the covid-19 crisis and that the SLS provides critical work supporting families and schools with resources, online / virtual teaching sessions, phone contact, British Sign Language groups, parent support groups, stay and paly sessions, video work, and blogs. SLS staff also provide direct teaching, assessment and staff training in schools and nurseries where safe and practical.
According to the NHS Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) there are around 8000 children between the ages of 2 and 25 with SEND. Indeed, Tower Hamlets ranks as having one of the highest proportions of children in the country with SEND along with suffering one of the highest rates of child poverty and with over 15,000 children being eligible for free school meals. Such statistics only make it clearer how important services like SLS are locally and it is very alarming what the proposed cuts will mean to those who will be losing their jobs and the children and their carers who will be losing vital support.
However, the truth is that the crisis in SEND services is of national proportion. SEND funding is one of many areas where the Government have announced funding increases in a claim that they are helping. The reality, as shown by the NEU’s research, is a real-term decrease in funding. The union has highlighted that the number of children and young people with an Education Health and Care Plan has increased by 33% since 2015 whilst the high needs block funding over the same period only increased by 6%. Last year, even before the pandemic and before I had the honour to serve on parliament’s Education Select Committee, it published a report calling for SEND reforms to end the funding crisis.
We have long needed a national strategy to scrap the culture of buck-passing. Put simply, support for children with SEND is faltering. It is trapped in a vicious downward spiral, as Conservative cuts and increased demand have overburdened the system while thousands of children miss out on the assistance they need. The Government might have declared the end of austerity but it continues to be very real for us in Tower Hamlets as many vital services have been cut, been unable to function to the level needed or face further decimation.
As my colleague, John McDonnell MP described when he joined us for the strike rally this week: “Tower Hamlets invested in learning services to give support to children, teachers and also families. This proposal is taking us back almost 40 years…. it’s going to destroy children’s life chances…. We can’t let this happen.”
Because as the support for our young people crumbles under the strain of rising demand and falling resources, more and more pressure is placed on education workers, children and our communities.
It is unacceptable that diverse needs are struggling to be met in our society and that every day, this risks wasting potential and possibility by hindering the unique contribution that every individual can make.
Services like SLS can bring about vital improvements in the lives of people who otherwise may be overlooked – it is literally a life changing service.
Ultimately, education shapes future generations. This is why I have long supported local campaigns to protect nurseries and community language services and was proud to be elected on a Labour platform that called for the restoration of Sure Start, end of academisation, abolition of tuition fees and restoration of grants and increased funding for adult education. 
I am in awe of the talent, courage and dedication of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, and the staff they work with.
I remember being moved and inspired at a local meeting last November at the testimony of Iqbal Hasan, a profoundly deaf young man who had experienced early years support at the specialist deaf unit at the now closed Overland Nursery. Iqbal sung the praises of the SLS saying that it gave him the individual attention he required throughout his education leading to him going on to do a BA in design at the prestigious University of the Arts London. He said:
“Every child deserves this support. Without the support I received I would not be where I am now. I was devastated to hear about these cuts. Every child deserves this support, it’s their human right’”.
Apsana Begum, MP for Poplar and Limehouse
#TowerHamlets #savetheSLS #SLSstrike
Apsana Begum MP tabled EDM 960 Support for Learning Service on 05 October 2020
Image: Protest outside Downing Street in order to present an invoice for £12 million, Tower Hamlets’ Council’s projected SEND budget overspend by 2022 (February 2020)