Birmingham special needs inquiry launched

Today I launched an inquiry into the level of help and support given to Birmingham’s near 35,000 children with special educational needs and disability.

I will hear from campaign groups, experts and the parents and families of children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) to find out how these kids can be better cared for and their families supported, particularly those living in poverty.

Birmingham schools have already borne the brunt of the some of the harshest government cuts – losing £400 per pupil on average in income since 2013 and set to lose over £450 more by 2020 – despite the fact that almost all support for SEND kids comes directly from school budgets and that Birmingham has 2.5 per cent more SEND kids than the national average.

Hodge Hill constituents have already made it clear how they feel about the level of support for SEND kids and their families in Birmingham. Responding to Mr Byrne’s annual constituency-wide survey, they said:

“I want to see a firm change in the way the Council supports kids with special needs. So far they have failed to provide my 13-year-old nephew with any form of assistance.”

“My son has special needs, but after 18 years, he hasn’t received any help.”

“My sister has special needs. My mother is terrified by the lack of social care in this country and my sister's future once she’s gone. It surely isn't beyond the wit of the fifth biggest economy in the world to provide social care to the needy?”

The enquiry aims to come up with solutions that will break the link between families living poverty who also have to care for SEND children, given that the proportion of people in poverty is higher in families with disabled children. In 2014, 26 per cent of families living in poverty in England cared for at least one disabled family member compared to 19 per cent for families living in poverty with no one disabled. Free school meals also make the distinction stark, where the proportion of SEND kids claiming free school meals is 15.4 per cent higher compared to claims by those without.

I will present its final report and recommendations to the City of Birmingham Inclusion Commission, which was set up in September 2016 to rebuild trust between the parents of SEND children and Birmingham education authorities in the midst of sharp increases in exclusions from special schools, which have now reached more than 10 per cent, and heavy cuts to home-to-school transport – cut by more than 30 per cent in the last three years, from £17.3 million to £12.1 million.

I gave journalists the following quotes:

“Our council is suffering the biggest cuts in local government history and it's becoming clear that disabled children are bearing the brunt of big cuts and poor services. This just isn't morally acceptable and Birmingham must take a stand."

“We've got plenty of good people who care about this passionately. So we need to bring people together to develop bold new answers. We cannot and will not stand by and see children with special needs treated as third class citizens of our city.”