Karin Smyth MP: "Parents should not have to be fighting to access support"
In last week's PMQs, Karin Smyth, Labour MP for Bristol South, raised the topic of school funding and how a lack of it is particularly affecting children with SEND. We got in touch with Karin to find out more about her views on this topic.
I regularly meet with school headteachers and parents in Bristol South. It's clear that central government budget cuts are hitting schools hard - particularly when it comes to Further Education and provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities.
I've spoken about the issue of schools funding in parliament many times, but after concerning conversations with constituents about the lack of support for children with SEND, I raised it with Theresa May during Prime Minister's Question Time on 9 July.
Things are difficult enough for these families. Parents should not have to be fighting to access support - they should not need to take the local authority to court and they should not be waiting a year for an Education Health Care Plan assessment. A year is a long time, especially when you're a child; it has a knock-on effect not only on the remainder of their education, but on their entire life. Without support from the off, children can fall further behind, find it even harder to fulfill their potential.
Councils such as Bristol City Council are limited by insufficient funding. There have also been problems locally which I’m pleased to see are now being addressed, with additional staff appointed to deal with the backlog of SEND assessments. And there is also now a commitment to review the whole SEND service in Bristol, which I welcome. Ultimately, though, more money is needed to be able to meet the needs of this very vulnerable group of children.
The government repeatedly bats off criticism of the funding crisis that many schools are facing by saying they are investing money and standards are rising. Predictably, that was the prime minister's answer to my question in parliament earlier this month. This is disingenuous; the extra money she referred to was little more than a sticking plaster for schools, many of which are losing classroom assistants, closing early and asking for donations from parents to plug the huge holes in their budgets.
We need more from the government.