At the Council meeting on October 15th 2019, Liberal Democrats put forward a motion asking the Council to do two things to help parents ensure their children's right to Education is protected. The first was to provide all parents of children attending schools with a clear and concise statement on their rights as parents and the rights of their children to an education. The Second was to consider how the local authority can support parents who are in dispute with the school that their children are attending through independent advice and advocacy. Below is the Speech made at the Council meeting by Councillor Julie Humphreys arguing passionately that our first duty is to support our most vulnerable children.
Protecting Children’s Legal Right to Education Speech by Councillor Julie Humphreys
"In my Councillor role, I’ve attended many council meetings, mostly concerning Children’s Services provision; which is an area of Council that I am particularly passionate to work in. We all know, effective positive change is of vital importance within this area of our workforce, if we are to optimise the opportunities and outcomes for every precious young person in Bradford. Council devotes so much time to consultation processes, meetings, producing reports, statistics, graphs and pi-charts, with the primary purpose of highlighting what is working well for Bradford’s Children and Young People.
But what are we actually doing to help the young people who we are failing?
Those as Councillor Ward quoted, our ‘invisible children’. The ones who, as we all know, are dropping like flies off Bradford Education’s Radar.
I am also a parent. One who has spent 12 years fighting on behalf of a young person with complex needs, who is academically able and wants to learn, yet has consistently fallen through the holes in the’ Alternative Provision Brolly’ and missed out on years of education through no fault of his own. Labelled a school refuser, and his educational prospects destroyed.
Because he didn’t fit in.
Why are we still hell-bent on trying to whack square pegs into round holes?
Help in the form of Advocacy was NOT there for us, and neither was the care, communication or follow-up. But, my Councillor role, has hammered home the fact he is not alone on this difficult journey.
Too many young people in Bradford are defined as students in ‘Alternative Provision’, the majority of whom are, our most vulnerable. They come from a variety of backgrounds, abilities and ethnicities but it is a sad truth that many of these young people are struggling with undiagnosed, even unidentified needs, with no support in place nor available. No attention paid.
We know the rest.
Their futures are grim. At the first sign parents and carers realise their young people are struggling, playing up, refusing to go to school and falling behind in class; they have no effective way of addressing these worries, no impartial person/advocate to offer support, advice or mediate with the school on their behalf. Where should they go for advice when they find themselves approaching the wasteland of ‘school refusal?’
Things can spiral downwards quickly. Family life can drop into a free fall. Marriages can break down, relationships with siblings and other family members deteriorate, and additional financial burdens only add to the escalating stressfulness of raising a young person who is not engaging in school life. Relationships between parents and school staff quickly become fractured, particularly about poor attendance issues. Parents do naturally defend their children, but parents also experience anxiety and panic too.
Anxiety is fear-based, and this anxiety breeds. So, Where do these people go for impartial help, or intervention without being made to feel like a bad parent, or be penalised? Parents don’t understand legal rights to education when entering school settings, so they cannot possibly comprehend how decisions are made about the futures of their children.
We desperately need to have trusted accessible information and support in place for young people and their families, when issues are emerging in schools. Better links between schools and families, with practical advice and support available to help empower parents to confidently deal with the agencies involved with their struggling children. This support must be available from an early age.
We have a duty as Councillors to do our utmost to ensure every child stays on track from the beginning of their journey into school life and is encouraged and supported to stay on the right roads through mainstream education and be clearly signposted away from ‘Alternative provision’.
No parent should have to go through this dreadful situation alone nor have their parenting skills thrown into question.
All parents deserve the best outcomes for their children. I ask all of you to question your consciences and look at the bigger picture in years to come. At the potential outcomes for our young people who are already drifting into the oblivion of ‘Alternative Provision’. I certainly do not wish to be partly to blame for history repeating itself - where we have a whole generation of adults who are unable find work, have unresolved social and emotional, MH issues, some will have criminal records, and some will have children of their own, who may just learn from example that education in Bradford is not actually inclusive.
So I say, let’s show that All of Bradford’s ‘Children’ really ‘are at the heart of what we do.’
I urge you all to support Councillor Ward’s motion and Protect Bradford’s Children’s Legal Rights to Education.