SEND campaigners fight on after Panorama revelations

A worried mum who has been fighting for her young son to receive the education he needs, and to which he is entitled, says that despite an 18-month battle with her local council, the situation for families of children with SEND – special educational needs and disabilities – has not improved and is “really shocking”.

Hayley Harding, the founder of the EHCP Crisis group in Sutton, was among the parents to be featured in last night’s BBC Panorama, Fighting For An Education.

The programme outlined how councils across the country go to great lengths, often at considerable expense, to avoid delivering EHCPs – education, health and care plans – as they are required to do by law.

Inside Croydon has reported in the past how Croydon Council – under the current Labour administration – was spending one-third of its entire SEND budget on lawyers’ fees at tribunals in making its case to not provide families with EHCP services.

And as recently as last year, Croydon Council was accused of trying “to hoodwink” families into signing away their legal rights for teens and young adults with SEND (councils’ responsibilities for SEND youngsters extend until they are 25) in order to make cost savings.

In last night’s Panorama, a father living in Kent showed how his county council offered his family, with two sons with SEND, £100,000 in a non-disclosure agreement if they would move out of the authority’s area and made their home in another council’s jurisdiction.

Hayley Harding, with her son: the Worcester Park solicitor uncovered Sutton Council’s unlawful actions

In Sutton, LibDem-controlled council outsourced its SEND provision to a separate company, Cognus. In 2018, Sutton’s SEND services failed an Ofsted inspection.

Eventually, the council sacked the managing director of Cognus over the company’s multiple failures.

As we reported last year, while Sutton has one of the highest levels of SEND funding per capita in the country, it also somehow manages to reject three times the national average of applications. The high refusal rate sees many Sutton families taking the council’s decision to tribunal, where 87 per cent of their cases are won by parents.

Today, after her television appearance with her son, Harding said, “I genuinely hope that after this, Sutton Council will finally admit that they are currently getting it wrong.

“In our group’s view, children are continually being rejected for educational help for reasons that are not lawful. The council’s constant rhetoric that all the SEND families in Sutton here are happy is a misrepresentation of the situation.”

In March this year, Harding says, 371 SEND families completed an online survey conducted by Ofsted. “In Ofsted’s own words, their feedback did not reflect what they were being told by Sutton Council.

“Parents here are very unhappy right now and they need to do something to fix it. They need to recognise that our experiences are the reality, and not ‘perceptions’ as they continually dismiss them as being.

“I never thought when I first started the group, 18 months later I would be talking about the situation here on Panorama. Partly because I never thought that the issues here would still be continuing after all this time.

“When I started the group, there was no way I could have envisaged that so many families were being affected by the injustice taking place here. It’s really shocking”.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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