'Don't cut our special needs support' parents urge Tower Hamlets mayor

Iqbal Hassan addressing online rally that "a deaf child like me in future could be without a specialist teacher"

Iqbal Hassan tells online rally it’s "unimaginable to think a deaf child like me in future could be without a specialist teacher" - Credit: Zoom

A profoundly deaf university student about to graduate with a first class degree has made a plea urging Tower Hamlets Council not to cut special needs education in April. 

Iqbal Hassan, a 20-year-old from Bow, had specialist support for 14 years during his mainstream education. 

He has joined angry parents this week who have sent a second open letter to the mayor in 12 months protesting at the £650,000 cuts to reduce the service by half “at a time when it’s needed most”. 

Mayor Biggs a year ago led protest to Downing Street over same issue of special needs funding

Mayor John Biggs a year ago led a protest to Downing Street over same issue of special needs funding. Now he plans to cut the service he was defending - Credit: SEND Crisis campaign

Mayor John Biggs joined the parents a year ago on a protest march to Downing Street over the same issue. 

The 1,000-word letter signed by 85 parents points out that 8,000 youngsters have been identified in the East End with special needs and disabilities. 

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Iqbal had support from teachers-of-the-deaf right from his nursery pre-school at the Overland centre in Bow in 2004 and through Colluden Primary and St Paul’s Way Secondary schools. 

The specialists got him to the University of Arts where he is predicted to graduate with a first class BA in graphic and media design. 

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“It’s unimaginable to think that a deaf child like me in future could be without a specialist teacher,” Iqbal told a teachers’ union online rally. 

“It’s disappointing to hear that children from April won’t get the same support that gave me the chance to go to college and accomplish my goals. Without that, I wouldn’t be at university.” 

The parents' letter asks the mayor to think again about the planned cuts to the Support for Learning service “due to a comparatively small deficit of £160,000”. 

It adds: “These cuts will make it impossible for schools to support every child with additional needs for their human right to an education.” 

A town hall statement to the East London Advertiser says: “Proposals respond to changes in demand, which includes offering a service all year round and more emphasis on independence for children with special needs. 

“We regularly review our service to meet expectations and provide value-for-money. We have an obligation to provide a minimum standard of service and against continued cuts to government funding.” 

The pioneering special needs service was set up in the 1990s to improve inclusion in mainstream education.  

“Thirty years’ work and investment will be reversed with these short-sighted proposals,” the letter claims. 

“Now is the time to prioritise, not cut the staff by half. We cannot have 14 posts deleted, with the pandemic and lockdown being particularly hard on families who rely on support.” 

The benefit of the proposed changes is said to be reducing waiting times for a child’s educational needs assessment.  

The current waiting times are more than the legal 20 weeks, which the parents agree must be addressed, but they add: “It’s disingenuous to present this as a 'benefit' of a new strategy. It’s simply about making sure the council stops breaking the law.”  

Parents protest at Downing Street in February 2020 over funding for special education needs

Parents protest at Downing Street in February 2020, over funding for special education needs. - Credit: SEND Crisis campaign

The mayor joined them in their Downing Street protest last February when he handed in a £12million “invoice” to cover the shortfall in the cash given to the authority for its special needs.

It was part of a National Educational Union campaign for Whitehall funding to catch up with rising costs and rapidly rising demand for special needs services, leaving local authorities to pick up the tabs.  

Tower Hamlets received £49m from the government in 2019 for special needs — but it cost another £7m to keep services going. The gap is forecast to reach £12m by 2022, the East London Advertiser learned.  

Mr Biggs said at the time: “Every child should be given the best start in life, so I’m calling on the government to make sure special education is properly funded.”  

A year on, the authority says it is investing £20m “to expand specialist education provision”. 

The council received an extra £7m for special needs and has also been given £4m earmarked for children’s Covid-safe transport and mental health requirements. But parents fear this won’t stop the cuts in April. 

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