The third International Day of Education (January 24) will be marked on Monday 25 January 2021 under the theme ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation’. This day, celebrated globally, shines a light on the need to create and sustain educational opportunities for every child, and for these opportunities to be lifelong.
When it adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015, the international community recognized that education is essential for the success of all 17 of its goals. Sustainable Development Goal 4, in particular, aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030.
Here in the UK, we might think that this is an aim that is already long since achieved, however the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have laid bare inequalities in education provision across the country, particularly for children with additional needs and disabilities.
A recent report by the BBC highlighted this, telling the stories of families who had found that accessing their child’s basic right to an ‘inclusive and equitable quality education’ was proving to be a difficult, if not impossible, process to navigate.
Mother of two Jen Smith from Bristol has spent the last two years in a legal battle to get an EHCP (Education Health and Care Plan) in place, as well as an education provision at a specialist school in South Gloucestershire, only for school to now largely be closed due to lockdown.
Another mother, Ramya from Swindon, said her autistic son is having extra medication for anxiety due to lockdown. She commented; “I have a child with an EHCP who already missed most of year seven and eight and it’s taking the first term of year nine to get him settled into a new school that could meet his needs. Now that we’ve just gone into lockdown there’s no guarantee that he’ll get a place.” She said she was waiting to hear back from her son’s school and things were “up in the air”.
She added that; “We live in an overcrowded flat and we don’t have the space to really properly do home learning.” She also felt that nationally, the system for SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) was “A mess. We have head teachers who are pitted against the Government and then parents pitted against the schools and head teachers. It feels like a constant ongoing fight.”
Special needs teacher Jennifer Holt, from Huddersfield, says her 10-year-old son is waiting to get an EHCP and is awaiting an autism diagnosis by independent specialists. He has already been diagnosed with severe dyslexia and dyspraxia. She said; “Not being able to attend for another probably minimum two months it’s going to make him step back. He is so difficult to get engaged in any formal learning, which the school knows about. He won’t get any formal education at all, he won’t engage in any written work at home, he won’t contribute to any Zoom meetings. He shuts down.”
She said his school class size was small so social distancing measures were achievable.
“It’s so soul-destroying how much you have to fight for this brilliant little person that you’ve got, that you know how brilliant they are and other people fail to, or don’t want to recognise or support them. The feeling of rejection I had was heartbreaking.”
The challenges families face getting ‘inclusive and equitable quality education’ are real, and are experienced by families up and down the country. This isn’t just an international issue, it’s a local issue too. As we celebrate The International Day Of Education, doing so in the eye of the COVID-19 storm, but also recognising the inequalities and disadvantages children with SEND and their families faced even before this pandemic, let us use this day as an opportunity to lobby Government on their behalf for real improvements in the educational opportunities offered to them.
As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres comments; “We must do far more to advance Sustainable Development Goal 4, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
Let’s not settle for anything less.
Content and image © Mark Arnold
More information about The International Day Of Education can be found here:
You can find contact information for your local Member of Parliament here: https://members.parliament.uk/members/Commons
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