Hundreds of shocking cases of children with special needs being forced out of school have emerged as figures reveal a £1.2bn drop in real-terms funding over the past four years.
Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are out of school for years at a time as government funding to local authorities has failed to keep up with a rise in demand.
In a litany of case studies revealed to The Independent, families say long periods at home have damaged their children’s mental health as they wait for councils to find suitable provision.
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One mother said her son, who has Asperger’s, has become severely depressed after being left at home without a college place for nearly two years. He stopped eating, talking and washing.
In other cases, parents have been forced to quit their jobs in order to look after children at home.
The stories came to light as a National Education Union (NEU) report warns that local authorities in England have reached “crisis point”, with nine out of 10 facing shortfalls of thousands of pounds.
Local authorities do not have enough money to provide adequate resources for SEND provision in school as the funding from government fails to keep up with growing demand, the NEU says.
Parents are increasingly entering lengthy legal battles with local authorities over failures to provide support to their children with special educational needs and disabilities.
And families are now planning to march across the country next month to highlight a “national crisis” in SEND.
A number of parents told The Independent that their children had been at home for long periods after being excluded or “off-rolled” – a process of removing a child from the school’s register.
Some say they were encouraged by schools to withdraw their children amid a lack of resources.
One mother of an autistic boy said they had been “backed into a corner with no choice” but to take their son out of school.
When he was out of education for nine months, the teenager became “increasingly withdrawn and unhappy” and “violent meltdowns” became the norm, she said.
Families have also had to resort to home schooling due to a lack of specialist provision being available. And in some cases, parents have had to give up their careers to care for children during the day.
Laura Berrill is still waiting for her son, who has Asperger’s, to start in a specialist college after spending nearly two years at home. His mental health has declined out of school.
“He got very skinny. He refused to wash and brush his teeth. He stopped talking. It was heartbreaking. It would make anyone depressed, let alone someone on the spectrum,” she said.
The number of children with an education healthcare plan, a legal document setting out a child’s needs, has risen from 240,000 to 320,000 since 2015 – a rise of a third, according to the NEU.
But the funding for the high needs block, the budget reserved to fund such additional provision, has only increased by 6 per cent over the same period, from £5.6bn to £6bn, the union says.
The report comes as hundreds of delegates of the NEU annual conference will debate whether to orchestrate a national campaign to oppose cuts in educational provision in Liverpool on Tuesday.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, warned that many local councils have been left “on the brink” amid funding cuts for SEND provision.
He said: “This is an appalling way to be addressing the education of some of our most vulnerable children and young people and is causing untold misery and worry for thousands of families.”
Mr Courtney added: “It is leading to very bad consequences for children where special needs support is being cut in schools and local authorities, and we hear stories of children that are out of the system for years at a time sometimes.”
Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “The Tories’ cuts to education have disproportionately hit children with special educational needs. It is devastating that, as a result, some of the most vulnerable children are being forced out of school altogether.”
Anntoinette Bramble, chair of Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said councils were reaching a point where the money is not there to keep up with demand, pushing support for children with SEND “to a tipping point”.
The LGA is calling on the government to use the forthcoming spending review to “plug the estimated special needs funding gap facing councils of up to £1.6bn by 2021.”
Nadhim Zahawi, minister for children and families, said: “We have increased spending on high needs from £5bn in 2013 to £6.3bn this year and it is not right to imply funding has been cut.
“We recognise the challenges facing local authorities and in December provided an extra £250m up to 2020 to help them manage high needs cost pressures.
“We have also provided councils with an extra £100m funding to create more SEND places in mainstream schools, colleges and special schools.”