On Thursday 8th I joined parents whose children have special educational needs (SEN), in lobbying Devon County Council.

Devon has regularly been judged ‘inadequate’ in its provision of children’s services, and thousands of parents across the county feel their children are being failed. There is a lack of support for children that find the traditional classroom a challenge. The County has a legal obligation to develop a suitable plan for these children, and to provide the resources to deliver it.

It would be fair to say that nearly all Councils have budgetary problems in delivering SEN services. The Conservative Government’s cuts to council budgets have, in no small part, created the problem. Indeed, so acute is the issue that councils are now allowed to ‘ring fence’ their overspend on SEN and pretend it is not a problem – if they didn’t many would be bankrupt! But Devon seems to be particularly poor. Long delays in assessing children, and an apparent strategy of contesting the need for such assessments, has meant some of our most vulnerable children are being denied the opportunity for educational advancement.

Parents, whose children can cope with the day-to-day ‘ups and downs’ of school, may ask ‘why does it matter to me?’.  Most SEN children can be successfully included in schools but if the resources to support them are inadequate (such as a lack of teaching assistants) they can disrupt the education of their classmates. That is why it matters on a personal level, but it should also matter that we give all our children the best start in life we can.

We know the Conservative government care about the education of their own children; look at the campaign they are waging against possible changes to the tax status of public schools. They need though to devote more resource to giving a hand up to those that need it most. Surely that is what ‘levelling up’ is truly about?

Devon County also needs to improve its performance. They could start by reducing the number of assessments they contest (which they usually lose at tribunal); they could bring staffing in-house (rather than using expensive external ‘temps’); they could recognise parents as partners (rather than just as clients needing resources).

As Whitney Houston sang “I believe the children are our future … teach them well and let them lead the way”. A maxim for special education as much as mainstream education.

Mark Wooding, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Central Devon