Parents say they are key to end the 'perpetual failure' of special needs schooling in Birmingham

The mother of an eight-year-old with special educational needs has been speaking about the pressure on her family as she prepares to take Birmingham City Council to tribunal.

Evelyn Armstrong will argue her case against the local authority next week after her son who has dyslexia, autism and sensory problems was refused a new Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP plan).

She had to buy him special ear defenders to wear in the classroom similar to those used by workers cutting down trees or drilling because he found the noise excruciating when he wore regular ones.

He has difficulty writing his own name. Going into the busy playground at break and lunchtime is also too much and Ms Armstrong says he cries all the time at school.

"He doesn't want to upset me. So he heeds my advice. I say: 'Look, you need to go to school. School is important. And if you want to become a rocket scientist, which is what he wants to do or a paleontologist, you need to go and get an education. But every day for him is a struggle.

"He had a meeting with the school's support worker for autistic children and he filled out a questionnaire. He was asked: 'How would you rate the school from one to ten?'

"And he said: 'Is it okay if I give it a zero?' That just broke my heart."

Ms Armstrong is one of hundreds of parents in the city to end up in conflict with the council ever year over its Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) provision.

The government commissioner said what he found at Birmingham City Council's SEND department was 'deeply worrying.' Credit: ITV Central

In 2021 a government Commissioner from the Department of Education was brought in to oversee the service - Birmingham is the only council where this has happened.

In his first report, the Commissioner said the service was 'chaotic' and 'deeply worrying'.

Ms Armstrong says she feels she's been given no choice but to appeal against the council's decision in her case.

"I don't really see why we are going to tribunal, because there is sufficient evidence of my child's needs from experienced, seasoned, registered and accredited professionals saying he needs a new plan.

"But the local authority are refusing. So we're going to waste the taxpayer's money as far as I'm concerned and my money, too. And I don't see why."

Ms Armstrong's says her experience has been made worse in recent weeks after a review found the council-run free support service for parents - known as SENDIASS - was 'poorly run' and 'non-compliant'.

Its future is now being discussed. Worried parents held a rally outside the council house last month and Ms Armstrong says she was initally told the level of support she was to receive at her tribunal would be withdrawn.

Parents protest outside the council house urging the council to keep the SENDIASS service as it is Credit: ITV Central

"It's been really, really stressful. I cannot tell you how much stress. At one point I felt that I was going to have a nervous breakdown. And that is when I decided to instruct a lawyer.

"I did finally speak to somebody (at SENDIASS). But you know, it's now the week before my child's representation. It was too late.

"I am much happier that I have a solicitor now. I mean, I've been treated so badly, I just really couldn't kind of trust them to follow this through."

Sabiha Aziz, Chair of Birmingham Parent Carer Forum which acts as a bridge between families and services, said families shouldn't be fighting like this.

Sabiha Aziz says the battle that parents of children with special educational needs have to go through should not exist Credit: ITV Central

"That's the issue - this battle - which is really sad because all of us are parents and carers caring for disabled children and young people.

"We have this additional job of battling to get the services they're entitled to. And that battle shouldn't exist. That shouldn't even be a thing. And it's really sad for me when I speak to parents to be told it's the battle that's exhausting them.

"They say: 'I'm tired of fighting. I'm tired of battling for services'.

Ms Aziz said the parents she represents believe they will continue to be failed - unless the local authority work with them more closely.

She said their years of 'lived experience' of the system and their understanding of the needs of young people mean Birmingham City Council are 'missing a trick' by not listening to them more.

Her comments come after it's emerged that the council spent £10 million defending appeals from parents over seven years - 90% of which they lost.

Ms Aziz described the amount as 'shocking' saying: "There are so many things it could have been better spent on."

Ms Aziz said she the fact the council now has a new Chief executive and Director of Children's Services was welcome but when asked if parents felt other progress had been made since the Commissioner's arrival, she said:

""No. And I think that that really is where the challenge is, because it's all about impact and for parents, for families, until the impact is felt, there is no improvement.

"f we look at all the issues that we currently have in the city, they all go back to the trust element. What the establishment is asking families to do is to trust them.

"So if they're saying to a family, you don't need an Education, Health and Care plan because we will offer you X, Y, and Z support instead if that family doesn't have trust in the person saying that, they will immediately be thinking" 'no, this is a cost cutting measure'.

Asked about the council support service SENDIASS, a council spokersperson said: "Support remains at all stages of the process including if required at the tribunal."

On the SEND service as a whole Cllr Karen McCarthy, Cabinet member for Children, Young People and Families, said: "We are absolutely committed to delivering positive change through our improvement plan and great deal of work has already happened.

“Yes, there is a long way to go but real and sustainable progress is being made, which has been recognised by the commissioner. However, we have acknowledged that it will be a three-year journey to become a good service, beyond that to strive toward being an excellent service.

“I am determined that we will get there and our children and young people need us to get this right. We have stable and strong leadership in place, with a new, experienced permanent assistant director leading the SEND service. We continue to work with the Parent Carer Forum who we and the commissioner value as partners in our improvement."