Special needs organisation leading the way for UK-wide child attendance strikes - and it’s asking families in Derbyshire to get on board

A NOT-FOR-PROFIT organisation that supports children with special educational needs and disabilities, and their families, is leading a national campaign for youngsters to go on ‘strike’ from their educational provision – and it’s asking families in Derbyshire to get on board.
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Derby-based Sunshine Support want those who are able to, to make a stand against an education system that founder Chrissa Wadlow says is ‘not fit for purpose’.It comes in the wake of a decision by the majority of teachers who are a part of the National Education Union (NEU) – the biggest teachers’ union in the UK - to opt for industrial action over pay.Teachers took to picket lines on Wednesday, with the next national strikes scheduled for March 15 and 16. There are several regional dates, too.Chrissa, who comes from a neurodivergent family and was diagnosed with ADHD herself last year, says that whilst she is fully behind teachers striking, children need to have their voices heard, too.“We are fully in support of the NEU’s decision to strike to improve working conditions and funding for teachers,” said Chrissa. “If teachers are content and have their needs met then there is a better chance our children’s needs are met, too.“Teachers are having their voice heard and we stand by them. It’s also time our children had their voices heard; they want to learn, too.”A report published last year by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, found that tens of thousands of children believed to be missing out on education.In the ‘Back Into School: New Insights Into School Absences – evidence from three multi-academy trusts’ report, Dame Rachel found that “there is not even the data to show how many children are missing from education altogether”.The report did say, though, that “in autumn 2021 there were 1.7 million children persistently absent from school” and “98,000 children severely absent, meaning that they missed at least 35 days of school in a term”. Vulnerable children were more likely to be absent nationally: 33.6 per cent of pupils receiving Free School Meals (FSM) were persistently absent in autumn 2021, compared to 20 per cent of pupils not in receipt of Free School Meals.Chrissa said: “Children who struggle to attend school are either being forced into environments that are not meeting their needs – under the threat to prosecute their parents – or they’re not being educated at all. We need to make our children visible. We need to bring about change.“The education system for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is underfunded. We want to abolish the archaic punitive punishments of fines and prosecutions for school attendance that drops below 95 per cent.“When education is accessible, inclusive and suitable children will learn. The focus needs to shift to become accessible education, moving away from the aim of 100 per cent attendance at a ‘one-size-fits-all’ education provision that is often alluded to by government officials.”Similar organisations to Sunshine Support have given the protests their backing. Tamara McCabe-Blom, from Powys in Wales, was one of the first to show her support.A parent/carer to two neurodiverse children, Tamara has been supported by Sunshine Support. She said: “I will be protesting here in Powys and raising awareness of the strikes among families I know, who may want to join in. It’s important that our children’s voices are heard.”The protests will take place on September 29, 2023.Chrissa added: “Whilst children and young people are absolutely welcome in person, we appreciate not all can attend.“So we are making the protests as accessible as possible and are proposing a personalised cardboard cutout of each child is used by their parent/adults in a peaceful protest in front of their local authorities and Parliament.”Further details can be found on the website schoolavoidance.co.uk