When I was elected to Parliament in June 2017, the problems of children with special needs and the struggles that their parents face became one of the major issues in my casework almost immediately. The problems are with the system, which has been framed around funding that does not meet its needs.
In High Peak in Derbyshire, the county council will not look at applications either for graduated response for individual pupil, or GRIP, lower-level funding or for EHCPs until children are at least two years behind academically. Parents and schools who struggle as best they can to support children are punished for doing so if those children achieve and make progress. By the time they get two years behind, they are usually in year 4 or year 5, and then the process of trying to get additional funding from the county council starts. In Derbyshire, that process is taking up to two years, largely because of a lack of educational psychiatrists, who have been cut and cut again.
Schools have to put an enormous amount of time into preparing applications, often for very small amounts of funding. They have to put in £6,000-worth of funding themselves before they even start. One secondary school in my constituency says it has 125 children with special needs who should qualify. They would have to find three quarters of a million pounds from their budget to apply for additional funding for all those children. The school cannot find £7,000, let alone £750,000, after four years of school funding freezes and increases in its costs. Parents are becoming increasingly distraught, seemingly caught in a fight against schools, which are reluctant to put in applications for funding because they know that the majority are refused even after days of a school trying to put a case together as best it can.
In Derbyshire, there is a £727,000 shortfall in our high needs block funding. Our Conservative county council suggested that the funding it got for road mending, at the end of the winter, when it could least be used, would have been more helpful for the children’s services budget and education. That might be a case that the Minister could make. Ultimately, we need more funding. I pointed out earlier the number of exclusions that children with special needs are facing. This is a system that is failing them, as well as schools, teachers, and parents.