Disabled children are floundering in a broken system, says additional needs campaigner, Mark Arnold. And whoever receives the keys to Downing Street must do something about it immediately


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Just a few days ago we learned of the horrific abuse taking place at an independent special educational needs school in the Wirral. Staff at ‘Life Wirral’ in Wallasey were caught by an undercover BBC reporter cruelly mocking and manhandling disabled children, fantasising about killing them and boasting about the physical abuse meted out to a student.

The BBC Panorama report also referenced abusive and offensive language used by staff at the school, as well as homophobic and sexist slurs. As shocking as this is, I’m sad to say it’s not a one-off. Time and again we’ve seen similarly horrific stories from other schools and care homes in this country. The system is broken and it’s failing our most vulnerable people.

Special educational needs

Local authorities, who have responsibility for the safety and care of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), claim they don’t have the money to provide the level of service required. Councils across England are forecasting a huge budget shortfall of around £1bn in school funding for children with additional needs.

Families are caught in the awful situation of fighting their local authority in the courts to provide their children with the appropriate provision they are entitled to under human rights law. That provision is supposed to be laid out in an Education Health and Care Plan, known as an EHCP, which is a legal document that highlights a child’s needs and how they will be met.

But Government figures show that, in the last year, only half of the 600,000 children in England with an EHCP have been issued with one within 20 weeks, leaving many families in limbo, with children absconding from school, or miserable in mainstream provision without adequate support. Many families are forced to appeal to tribunal just to get their children assessed, after councils deny that they need support.

According to the BBC report, 38 councils have reached bailout agreements with the Government, largely due to spiralling SEND costs and a lack of funding to pay for them. Catriona Moore from The Independent Provider of Special Education Advice, told the BBC there was “very little focus on children’s needs” and much more on “the financial bottom line”. All the while, these children are suffering. 

As a Christian what can I do?

As Christians, we are called to follow the example of Jesus in reaching out to help and support the weak, the marginalised and the vulnerable. Jesus told us the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) to illustrate this, as well as the story of The Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), where he reminds us: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” We can take immediate action to respond to this calling and engage with the SEND crisis in three main ways:

1. Pray

Bring this situation into God’s presence and ask him to bring about change for children with SEND and their families, across the country.

2. Speak out

Ask candidates standing in the upcoming election what they plan to do to address the SEND crisis. Use this automated form from Families with Disabled Children to send an email to parliamentary candidates in your local area. Use your vote to choose a candidate that commits to protecting and providing for the most vulnerable children in our society.

3. Support families

Contact families with children with SEND and let them know they are not forgotten and that you care about them and stand with them.

There cannot be another ‘Life Wirral’; there cannot be another family learning that an adult at their child’s school, someone who should have cared for and protected their child, instead abused their child and boasted about wanting to drown them “like a kitten”.

There cannot be families waiting over six months for an EHCP, only to then have to fight through the courts to get that plan adequately provided for in their child’s school.

If we can’t do the best we can for the weakest in our society, then that is a damning indictment on us all. The incoming Government must address the SEND crisis immediately, and we must all hold them to account to make sure that they do.