On Thursday 30 May, campaigners protested at twenty-eight locations around the country, demanding the reversal of cuts to Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) funding. Organised mainly by parents and SEND kids, protests ranged from a handful of people with a banner to hundreds on town hall steps.
The centrepiece saw several thousand campaigners gather outside 10 Downing Street to hand in a petition. The National Education Union supported and promoted the protests, and its members turned out with banners in several locations. RMT also supported the protests. In some areas, Labour councillors joined the demonstrations, even though they had voted to pass on government funding cuts by reducing SEND spending. Hopefully, a growing mobilisation will provide the pressure and confidence for them to refuse to do so again.
Funding for high-needs SEND fell short by £287m last year and will fall short by £1.6bn within two years. Half of all local area SEND services have failed their Ofsted or Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection. Parents are also pursuing legal challenges: while these may win in some cases, they are unlikely to succeed in overturning the overall funding cuts.
Speaking outside Hackney Town Hall, teenage autistic activist Joe Booth explained the negative impact on autistic students of these cuts and said, “It is not enough to complain: we have to fight back”. We can be sure that this group of campaigners will continue to do so, and that if the labour movement throws its weight behind them, then they can win.