The crisis no one is talking about in the 2019 General Election

9 December 2019
Image shows young child holding a placard that contains the RNIB and Young Vision Alliance logos and reads 'Our future matters, no child with vision impairment left behind'.

Dr. Chrissie Pepper, RNIB Policy Manager explains how the system of support for pupils with special educational needs and disability is in crisis, yet absent from the recent political debates.

Across the country, children and young people with special educational needs and disability (SEND) are being denied the support and services they need. Yet this crisis has been largely absent from recent political debate in the General Election campaign.

We want all parties to commit to tackling the SEND crisis so that children and young people with vision impairment receive the specialist services they need to access their rights and fulfil their potential. This is one of five key asks in our General Election manifesto for England. 

SEND Crisis exposed

There’s been no escaping the SEND crisis in 2019. Earlier this year, RNIB marched alongside families and professionals in protests across England over the lack of funding which has left many children without proper provisions and support. The government can be in little doubt of the extent of the problem having been hit by a series of damming reports exposing failings in the system.

In October earlier this year, the House of Commons Education Committee published its report following the SEND inquiry launched in April 2018. The report said that children and young people with SEND and their families have been let down “by failures of implementation of the 2014 reforms”. This has “resulted in confusion and at times unlawful practice, bureaucratic nightmares, buck-passing and a lack of accountability, strained resources and adversarial experiences, and ultimately dashed the hopes of many.”

The system is also financially unsustainable and there is no real accountability - the government doesn’t know what schools do with the money it gives them to support pupils with.

Moreover, there are more appeals than ever and, shockingly, nine in 10, of complaints about the Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP) process are found in favour of parents. The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has described this as “exceptional and unprecedented” in its report ‘Not going to plan’. Ombudsman Michael King said that … many children, often the most vulnerable in society, are not getting the right support at the right time, and this is having a significant impact on their education and attainment.”

Most recently, RNIB’s own report ‘Left Out of Learning’ highlighted that thousands of children and young people with vision impairment (VI) are being let down by underfunded local authorities (LAs) across England, with an estimated 11,000 VI children across England affected – one in three VI children across the country.

Our own research has revealed a shocking lack of resource for local authorities to deliver this crucial provision. Despite an increasing number of children and young people requiring and accessing specialist support in the last few years, funding has been cut, qualified teachers of vision impairment (QTVI) roles have been lost and caseloads have increased - putting remaining services under enormous strain. 

Yet political parties aren’t talking about it

Despite the scale and depth of the problem, fixing the SEND crisis has received little attention from the political parties and has been largely absent from the debate. However, a new poll suggests more than two million votes are up for grabs, with parents overwhelmingly likely to vote for a party that commits to better support for their disabled child. The poll of nearly 1,000 parents, conducted by the National Deaf Children’s Society and four disability campaigning groups, also shows that nine in ten parents don’t feel their child currently gets enough support.

With the 2019 General Election promising to be one of the most unpredictable in recent years, can any candidate afford to ignore their concerns?

We want all parties to commit to solving the SEND crisis, and we want candidates to commit to being champions for children and young people with vision impairment in the new Parliament.

You can help us with this goal by contacting candidates in your constituency to ask them what they will do to support children and young people with vision impairment and ask them to sign up as an RNIB Champion, you can also take our automatic twitter action to tweet all of your candidates.

Take action: Ask your Parliamentary Candidates to become RNIB Champions 

Tweet your candidates