In the midst of a funding crisis, special needs children are not to blame

(Photo: Unsplash/Yomex Owo)

Two recent articles in The Times have caused many parents a lot of hurt and upset - and that is putting it mildly.

The headlines of the second article were changed from the original so the online article now reads differently. It originally read: "£400 million schools funding diverted to special needs."

The leading lines then read: "Children have been losing out because millions of pounds earmarked for their education has been syphoned off to pay for special needs education."

This followed a case study by the same journalist (Greg Hurst) with a headline reading "Propping up special needs with 'golden ticket' school cash".

Sadly, both articles were hidden behind a pay wall, but screenshots have been shared across social media causing anger on both sides of the debate.

A lot of the facts and figures in the articles are something parents of children with additional needs have known for years, but like them, I have never seen them used against children in this way.

The figures have been used in a biased way and miss out how many children were not supported in the past because of poor procedures and have suffered as a result. It doesn't comment on the history that has led us to this point, such as the financial implications and shortfall in resources caused by closing so many specialist additional needs schools over the years.

Sufficient funding wasn't passed on to main stream schools despite those authorities closing the schools knowing it would have a financial impact. Much has been overlooked in this incredibly inflammatory article. For a balance, I recommend this from Politics Home: Layla Moran MP: Children with special educational needs or disabilities are on the frontline of the funding crisis

The writer's politics are incidental – but with this coming out on the morning of The Time's first article, I'm wondering if I'm seeing disabled children being vilified due to being caught up in a storm of political one up-manship.

My main argument about the articles is not the numbers game being played out in them, but the terminology that deems children with additional needs as 'less than'. The headline of the second article implies they are neither children nor pupils but the only cause of this crisis. Second to that is the implication that they are preventing 'normal' children from learning.

The first article's headline implies the EHCP (education, health and care plan) is a golden ticket to getting your needs catered for over and above other children. Considering most people won't get past the paywall, this wording carries a significant implication too – once you have one of those 'Golden Tickets' you get everything you need instantly, which in the real-life world of additional needs children is just not true. The truth of these care plans is that they are difficult to get, often full of misinformation, and regularly followed by broken promises.

It has been noted recently that of the 40% increase in home schooling, a large proportion of those taken out of school are children with additional needs. This is because the system doesn't fit their needs. Their EHCP, if they have one, has not been a golden ticket for them.

Some families are having to move house to find a school that can support their child's needs because no school in their area feels they can provide for them. Many of these children have medical needs and not specific behavioural needs as you might assume.

There are times when the system works and works really well. When this happens, you find once struggling children getting the chance to settle, feel safe and learn. From that stable platform comes the ability to achieve more and be a valued member of society. That achievement may not always be academic, but does that really matter?

I know schools are struggling financially – I've donated my fair share of felt tip pens and paper to local schools. I also know there are many schools who provide support to children who need it, even without an EHCP. I am so thankful for those schools.

But in the midst of this funding and political crisis, is it right to vilify some of the most vulnerable children in our society? No, it isn't.

The rate of hate crime towards children with additional needs has risen exponentially over the last five years, and these articles are just adding to this. It's also a well-known fact that siblings of children with additional needs fall victim to this hate crime too. It affects the whole family.

Already, comments on social media from parents who don't have children with additional needs are vile and cruel in the extreme.

You can probably tell: I am angry.

But there's also a niggling worry in the back of my mind. Disabled people remain the forgotten victims of the Holocuast. Nazi propaganda portrayed disabled people as "useless eaters" who had "lives unworthy of living". They pointed to the high cost of supporting disabled people, and suggested it was unhealthy and unnatural for society to be paying for this. The propaganda worked and it is estimated that 275,000 disabled people were killed by the Nazis.

These headlines and others before them seem to have a similar ring – scapegoating the vulnerable with clever words and numbers causing others to react negatively to them.

I'm going to quote some parents now: replace 'additional needs' with another one of the protected characteristics of the equality act and there would be an outcry.

Why not for these children?

Kay Morgan-Gurr is Chair of Children Matter and Co-Founder of the Additional Needs Alliance, part of the Evangelical Alliance Council. For more, and on Twitter @kaymorgan_gurr