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Half a million school children and workers turn out in mass calls for climate action

Oceania/ Autralia/ 24.09.2019/ Source:


Australians workers downed tools to join students who left school to attend climate change rallies. The protest drew around 500,000 people and shut down city centres across the country.
Lawyers, academics, tech company workers, members of unions and community groups, university students and retirees all joined the rallies in what was a huge expansion of a movement that started as a school strike against global warming.
The demonstrations in Australia were the first of similar rallies planned to roll around the world on Friday, as officials gathered at the United Nations in New York for the world bodies Emergency Climate Summit.
«We’re here for one reason: we want climate action,» said Carmel Allen, 63, who travelled with friend Margaret Armstrong, 76, from the Illawara region south of Sydney to join the march in the city. «We’re worried for our children and for future generations.
«We’re so happy with the turn out – we’ve seen guys in suits, young mums, unionists. It looks like everyone is here,» Armstrong added. «The climate affects everyone.»
Allen and Armstrong were among a crowd estimated to be 80,000 in Sydney. 100,000 people rallied in Melbourne, and with protests in more than 100 locations around Australia, the total involvement was double that of the climate rallies held in March.
Gabriel Anderson, a Year 4 student from a school in Sydney’s inner west, attended the rally with his mother and a group of other children.
«I’m here because the environment isn’t being looked after,» the 10-year-old said. «I hope now politicians will listen.»
Gabriel’s mother, Tamsin, said she felt comfortable giving her son the afternoon off school. «I feel like these kids are learning something crucial here – they are learning how to make change, how to be hopeful,» she said.
Gabriel Anderson, a Year 4 student from a school in the Sydney’s inner west, attended the rally with his mother and a group of other children from his school. (Nine)
Earlier, federal Education Minister Dan Tehan called on students to stay in school, and questioned whether so many young people would care so much if they were not missing some class time.
«The true test of the protesters’ commitment would be how many turned up for a protest held on a Saturday afternoon,» he said in a statement.
100,000 people were estimated to have attended the Melbourne rally. (Supplied)
Year 9 student Kyla said her Wenona School in North Sydney wanted students who attended the rally to have to make up lost class time later.
«It’s basically like detention,» she said. While she was disappointed at her school’s lack of support, she said she felt inspired by the rally. «It gives me hope,» the 14-year-old said. «We all need to stand together because we all have one problem.»
Katie, Scarlett and Kyla, 14, said they were inspired by the huge group who turned out for today’s rally. (Nine)
Rick Cavicchioli, a microbiology professor at the University of New South Wales, cancelled his classes for the day to attend the rally. «This gives the opportunity for my students to come down here as well,» he said. His demand was simple: «Change, now.»
Organisers are calling for no new coal, oil and gas projects in Australia, 100 percent renewable energy generation and exports by 2030, and a just transition for workers in fossil fuel-dominated industries and communities.
Tech worker Luke Foxton attended the rally after being encouraged by his software company, Atlassian. He said all employees were given the afternoon off, as well as paid time to prepare banners.
The Sydney rally in the Domain saw lawyers, academics, tech companies, community groups, university students and retirees among the atendees. (Nine)
Students, workers, and unionists spoke on stage at the Sydney event from 12pm to 1.30pm, and guided the crowd in chanting: «One struggle, one fight: climate action, worker’s rights!»
Addressing the crowd, Tommy-John Herbert, a wharfie from Port Botany, said he was at the rally because of the work of the Maritime Union of Australia.
«As I speak, not one of our cranes are running,» he said.
Port Botany wharfies attended the rally using protections for industrial action designed for enterprise bargaining. It is the first known instance of the protections being used for such an action, the Australian Financial Review yesterday reported.
Herbert said his employer sent out an email to all workers saying attending the rally is illegal. Many of the port workers came anyway.
Sylvie, 11, and Mae, 9, also attended the rally accompanied by their mum, travelling from the Northern Beaches. «It’s important the government sees that kids care, they are coming out of school,» Sylvie said. (Nine)
Other unions such as the Teachers Federations as well as charity organisations like Ozharvest and community groups like the Rozelle Climate Action group all urged their members to attend.
Community action group organizer Angela Michaelis, 64, said her group of mostly retirees who were turning out because «we owe to young people and we can support them».
National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) student Angela Doherty, 23, estimated 50 students from her university joined the rally.
Angela Doherty (left), 23, said 50 students from NIDA joined the action. (Nine)
«We’re here because we care about the climate,» she said. «There’s no point studying for a future we might not have.»
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Children in crisis want education more than money, food or water

Africa/ 24.09.2019/ Source:

  • Surveys from toughest places on earth reveal top priorities for children in crisis
  • School ranks far higher than immediate needs like food, water and shelter
  • But education allocated just 2% of funding in humanitarian emergencies
  • 262 million children – one in five globally – denied an education
Children overwhelmingly identify education as their top priority at times of crisis, a new report by Save the Children shows today.
Education Against the Odds provides the largest analysis of what children – rather than aid planners – say they need during humanitarian emergencies.
The report’s surprising findings reveal children are more than twice as likely to rank going to school as their top concern, compared to immediate needs like food, water, shelter or money.
Education remains chronically underfunded during emergencies, representing just two per cent of aid for countries grappling with war, disease and disaster.
Of 1,215 children surveyed in six countries, nearly one in three (29%) said education was their top priority. [1]
That was more than twice the number who identified food (12%), health (12%), or water and sanitation (12%) as their primary concern. It was three times the number who said they needed shelter (9%) or money (9%) most.
Other concerns children identified as top priorities include clothing (3%), sport and leisure activities (3%), safety (2%) and family (1%). [2]
The surveys were conducted over the last five years with children aged 5-18, during humanitarian responses across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Among the respondents were:
  • Children struggling to survive in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines;
  • Child refugees from Syria and Afghanistan;
  • Children living in conflict zones in the Democratic Republic of Congo;
  • Rohingya children in refugee camps in Bangladesh;
  • Children displaced by fighting in Ethiopia and South Sudan.

One child fighting against the odds to get an education is 10-year-old Ali from Idlib, Syria. He and his family fled their village to escape fighting. When they returned home, Ali’s school was in ruins after being hit by an airstrike. Nearly half of the schools in north west Syria are currently out of action. [3] Ali said:

«I saw my school was destroyed and broken down and it made me so sad. My friends and I, we will go back and study in it. I love my school – my wish is that it does not get bombed and destroyed again. We will rebuild it and make it better than before. I love to study. I want to become a doctor to treat people who are in need and serve my country.»

Save the Children’s analysis of UN data shows that – far from recognising children’s priorities at times of crisis – humanitarian aid for education trails far behind other sectors.

Just two per cent of funding for countries grappling with emergencies was allocated to education last year. That represents half the levels earmarked for medical care, and one tenth of the support dedicated to providing supplies of food. [4]

262 million children, one in five globally, are out of school, many of them due to sudden or protracted crises like wars, outbreaks of disease or natural disasters.

But, at current rates, the United Nations estimates 225 million children will still be out of school in 2030 due to stagnating levels of education aid globally. [5]

This week Save the Children is calling for world leaders to dramatically boost the funding available for education in emergencies through Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the first and only global fund dedicated to providing education in countries affected by crisis. [6]

In August the UK committed £90 million to the fund, and called for other wealthy governments to follow suit by dedicating more of their aid budgets to global education.

Other commitments of funding for the ECW are expected to be announced at a meeting at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday (September 25).

Save the Children’s Head of Education Policy, Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly, said:

“What children have been telling us is clear and unambiguous. Even when food is scarce, water dirty and medical care almost non-existent, children still want to go to school.

“They know an education will give them the skills they need to escape a crisis. They know it protects them from child marriage, exploitation and abuse. They understand it helps them recover from trauma.

“Children want more than to simply survive. Education gives them the power to build a better future.”


[1] A vital part of Save the Children’s work is to ask children what they need. This helps to inform our own priorities and influence the priorities of others. We reviewed data from rapid field surveys by aid workers stretching back more than a decade, encompassing the hopes and fears of more than 8,000 children in the toughest places on earth. While most surveys we analysed were records of small group discussions, quantitative data was available from six countries between 2013 and 2018, from a combined total of 1,215 children aged 5-18. A simple average was calculated across the studies.

[2] All other priorities children identified were: clothing (3%), sport and leisure activities (3%), safety (2%), family (1%), insecurity (1%), phones (1%), transportation (1%), collecting firewood (1%), and unspecified concerns (4%).

[3] Out of the 1,193 schools in north west Syria, 635 continue to be operational, 353 have been abandoned or damaged, and 205 are being used as collective shelters, according to analysis by Save the Children partner Hurras Network in August 2019.

[4] International donors provided a total of more than $25 billion in humanitarian aid in 2018, according to the UN’s Financial Tracking Service (FTS). $606 million (2.41%) was allocated to education, $1.5 billion (5.98%) to health and $6 billion (23.85%) to food security,

[5] UIS data for the school year ending 2017, the latest available, shows 262 million children were out of school, or 18% globally. Estimates from UNESCO suggest 225 million children will still be out of school by 2030 without urgent action, missing a global commitment to get every child into education by that date.

[6] Since its establishment in 2017, the little-known Education Cannot Wait (ECW) fund has reached nearly 1.5 million children and young people – half of them girls – in 31 crisis-affected countries. Over the next four years, ECW needs to raise $1.9 billion to ensure 8.9 million children caught up in humanitarian emergencies get to go to school.

[7] Save the Children exists to help every child reach their full potential. In the UK and around the world, we make sure children stay safe, healthy and keep learning, so they can become who they want to be.

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LGBT lesson protests hijacked by religious extremists, MPs say

By: Nazia Parveen.

Schools described as ‘under siege’ as actions spread from Birmingham to north-west

Protests against LGBT lessons in schools have been hijacked by those with a “religious, extremist agenda” who are holding schools “under siege”, MPs have said, as the number of schools being targeted has grown.

Anderton Park primary school, in the Moseley area of Birmingham, has become the latest site of demonstrations against the teaching of LGBT rights, following similar protests at other schools in the city. On Friday, the last day before the half-term holiday, staff were forced to send children home after another protest. Earlier this week, protesters claimed 600 of the school’s 700 pupils were withdrawn by parents, a figure disputed by the school, which said more than half remained in attendance.

West Midlands police are investigating threatening emails and phone calls against the school’s headteacher, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, and allegations that mostly female LGBT activists were pelted with eggs by men wearing balaclavas as they placed heart-shaped messages and banners on the school fence.

Taking centre stage in the protest is 32-year-old Shakeel Afsar. For six weeks he has stood outside the school with a microphone, chanting with fellow campaigners: “Let kids be kids,” and “Our kids, our choice”. Other protesters have carried placards with the messages: “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” They have also demanded the resignation of Hewitt-Clarkson. Although the school does not teach No Outsiders, the programme that informs children about LGBT identities, it does share equality messages and books with pupils.

Afsar, whose daughter attends an Islamic school, went to Anderton Park as a child and has a niece and nephew who currently study there. He grew up in a heavily politicised household in which his father, Najib Afsar, the head of the Birmingham-based Jammu Kashmir Liberation Council (JKLC), would regularly give talks and organise protests against events in the disputed region.

The family has links with a number of local and national politicians and political aides, including the MP Roger Godsiff, who has criticised LGBT+ inclusive education. The family also runs a TV channel – Kashmir Broadcasting Corporation – which is currently off-air but has a website that regularly posts updates on the schools protests.

Najib Afsar, who has described Hewitt-Clarkson as a dictator, says he does not take part in the protests, but that his son has his full support.

“He has a working team of five people. I don’t participate in their activities, because that is their show and we don’t get involved in it,” he said.

However, he later revealed he had written to the school to ask to be appointed as a mediator. The school refused his request. He has also written to local and national politicians about the issue and said it was a boost to his son’s cause to have Godsiff, the Labour MP for Birmingham Hall Green, endorsing their views.

The protests have been met with anger from Labour’s Jess Phillips, the MP for Birmingham Yardley, who lives near the school, and said they were being organised by a group of “12 angry men”.

The MP Jess Phillips confronts Shakeel Afsar outside Anderton Park school
The MP Jess Phillips confronts Shakeel Afsar outside Anderton Park school. Photograph: BBC News

She recently confronted Shakeel Afsar at the school gates, accusing him of damaging the reputation of Birmingham’s “peaceful and loving” Muslim community.

She said: “It is hate preaching. The protest has to be stopped. I feel like everyone is pussyfooting around a load of bigots. They shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the schools. These are people with a religious extremist agenda. They are holding schools under siege.”

Phillips said she would ask for an exclusion zone around the school to allow pupils to attend lessons without being disturbed by the protests.

Afsar denied the protests were promoting an extremist agenda. He said: “That’s absolute nonsense. That’s not what is happening. I am here for the community and they feel the school are being intolerant and I am supporting them.”

Hewitt-Clarkson said the school would pursue an injunction to stop the protesters from gathering outside, and claimed the protests were a “one-man show”.

She said: “The first time I met Shakeel he slammed his hand on my desk and demanded that we stop teaching anything about LGBT rights. He was very agitated. He describes himself as a general in army and uses words like battles, army, soldiers, and I have to keep reminding him that this is a primary school. We call it the Shakeel show.”

Headteacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson
Headteacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson says the protests at her school are a ‘one-man show’. Photograph: David Sillitoe/The Guardian

At Parkfield community primary school in the predominantly Muslim Alum Rock area of Birmingham, where the first protests took place, there has been a moratorium. Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service’s former lead on child sexual abuse, has been brought in as a mediator and both the school and parents have remained silent, seeking to distance themselves from other recent activity on the issue.

In other parts of the country groups have also been created. In Oldham inGreater Manchester, 500 parents have joined the Oldham Parents Forum and plan to lobby all 60 schools in the area to begin talks with parents over LGBT lessons.

Nasim Ashraf, a member of the religious group Oldham Interfaith Forum, said he started the forum. Ashraf and his wife, Hafisan Zaman, received payouts from a number of national newspapers when they were falsely accused of a Trojan horse plot to take over Clarksfield primary school in the area.

Ashraf acknowledges his own children are not affected by the LGBT teaching. One of his daughters is at university and his other child is at a Church of England school and will have left by the time the programme is rolled out into the curriculum.

However, he was allegedly called on by parents who were finding it difficult to articulate their concerns. His group has approached seven schools and have plans to speak to 60 in total.

He said: “Some of these parents can’t articulate what they feel and some of them don’t even know what Islam says about this issue. I am here to guide them. Our biggest asset is our children and we need to make sure the schools are adhering to guidelines and policies when teaching RSE [relationships and sex education] and taking into account parents’ beliefs.”

The Manchester Parents Group is headed by Shebby Gujjar Khan, a 30-year-old accountant who has no children. His group, which has almost 250 members, called for protests at primary schools across the region and for parents to withdraw their children. This resulted in parents at several schools, including William Hulme’s grammar school in Whalley Range and Acacias community primary school in Burnage, contacting the management about sex education lessons.

Khan, who says he created his group after parents raised concerns with him about a transgender child attending a local secondary school, claims groups have also been created in Blackpool, Preston, Bradford and Liverpool.

He said: “This is about morality. We have our own religious beliefs and they need to be respected.”

From September 2020, primary schools in England will be required to teach relationship lessons, including classes that will reflect the fact some children have same-sex parents. Parents will not have the right to withdraw pupils from these classes.

The education secretary, Damian Hinds, said the protests had been “hijacked by individuals with a vested interest and no links to the schools”.

He added: “It is unacceptable that children at Anderton Park are missing out on education because of the threat of protests. There is no place for protests outside school gates. They can frighten children, intimidate staff and parents. It is time for these protests to stop.”

Hewitt-Clarkson says she will not bow to the protesters. “This is not about LGBT. This is all about control, coercion, manipulation, dehumanisation of me because I will break and I will be crushed and they will be victorious. We’ve seen this play out here but I won’t meet them and I won’t meet their demands, and they are not winning and that’s why it has escalated. They have to be the victors at any cost, but they will not win.”

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Two years after exodus, Myanmar’s ‘desperate’ Rohingya youth need education, skills: UNICEF

Asia/ Bangladesh/ 28.08.2019/ By: Patrick Brown/ Source:


The daily struggle to survive for Myanmar’s Rohingya people in one of the world’s largest refugee settlements, has caused “overwhelming” despair and jeopardized the hopes of an entire generation, the head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, said on Friday.

In a report marking two years since the arrival of around 745,000 Rohingya civilians in Bangladesh – after fleeing State-led persecution and violence in Myanmar – Executive Director Fore appealed for urgent investment in education and skills training.

‘Mere survival is not enough’

“For the Rohingya children and youth now in Bangladesh, mere survival is not enough,” she said. “It is absolutely critical that they are provided with the quality learning and skills development that they need to guarantee their long-term future.”

Without adequate learning opportunities, youngsters can fall prey to drug dealers and traffickers who offer to smuggle “desperate” ethnic Rohingya out of Bangladesh, the UN report warned.

Education ‘can help avoid risks’

Women and girls face harassment and abuse especially at night, UNICEF noted, while adding that one of the agency’s objectives through education is to give teenagers the skills they need to deal avoid “many risks”, including early marriage for girls.

In addition to Bangladesh’s Kutupalong camp, which is home to some 630,000 people, hundreds of thousands more, have found shelter in another dozen or so camps in the Cox’s Bazar region close to the Myanmar border.

Living conditions are often described as perilous by UN humanitarians, including UNICEF, which have issued frequent alerts about the devastating effects of monsoon rains on flimsy bamboo and tarpaulin shelters.

Between 21 April and 18 July this year, refugee camp authorities recorded 42 injuries and 10 fatalities, including six children, because of monsoon weather, according to UNICEF.

For the Rohingya children and youth now in Bangladesh, mere survival is not enough – UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore

Amid huge needs – and with conditions still unsuitable for the return of ethnic Rohingya to Myanmar, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) – basic public services have been provided in Cox’s Bazar, including health care, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, under the leadership of Bangladesh.

“But as the refugee crisis drags on, children and young people are clamouring for more than survival; they want quality education that can provide a path to a more hopeful future,” the UNICEF report insists.

According to the agency, around 280,000 children aged four to 14, now receive educational support. Of this number, 192,000 of them are in 2,167 learning centres, but more than 25,000 children “are not attending any learning programmes”, the agency noted.

© UNICEF Patrick Brown
A boy reads from his textbook in a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (2 July 2019)

Most 15 to 18-year-olds miss out on school

More worrying still, nearly all 15 to 18-year-olds are “not attending any type of educational facility”, UNICEF said, before highlighting the case of one Kutupalong resident, Abdullah, 18.

“I studied six subjects back in Myanmar,” Abdullah says. “But when I arrived here, there was no way I could continue. If we do not get education in the camps, I think our situation is going to be dire.”

In an appeal to the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar, UNICEF and other agencies are calling for the use of national educational resources – curricula, training manuals and assessment methods – to help provide more structured learning for Rohingya children.

“Providing learning and training materials is a huge task and can only be realized with the full backing of a range of partners,” UNICEF chief Ms. Fore said. “But the hopes of a generation of children and adolescents are at stake. We cannot afford to fail them.”

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Special needs funding gap in London schools «unsustainable»

Europe/ United Kindow/ 29.07.2019/ By Jessie Mathewson/ Source:


Special needs and disability support in London schools is facing “unsustainable financial risk” according to a report from London Councils.

A “dramatic and sustained rise” in demand for special educational needs and disability services (SEND) has led to a £77 million funding gap in the capital, research found.

There are more than 200,000 young people in London with special educational needs or a disability, and almost a quarter have high needs.

Children with high needs often require more support, which may include an education health and care plan. This is a record of the support that a child needs, helping them to access specialist services from their local council.

Demand for health and care plans in the capital has increased rapidly, rising by 31 per cent between 2014/15 and 2017/18. All but one London council now has a deficit in its budget for children with high special educational or disability needs.

Councillor Nickie Aiken, leader of Westminster Council and London Councils’ executive member for schools and children’s services, said the current pressure on council budgets was “unsustainable”.

She said: “When children and families aren’t getting the right support at the right time, the effects can be disastrous.”

She added: “The Government needs to boost investment in children’s services in line with councils’ rising costs. That’s the only way to ensure the sustainability of the high-value, high-impact local services that make such a difference to children’s lives.”

Responding to the report, the London Assembly’s education panel chair, Jennette Arnold, said the Mayor must continue to put pressure on the Government to increase funding in line with demand.

She said: “SEND pupils are more than capable of having a bright future and a good life in adulthood if the resource is made available to ensure the work to make that happens starts as early as possible.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said SEND funding for schools had increased from £5 billion in 2013 to £6 billion this year, with an extra £42 million earmarked for London in December.

He said: “Our ambition for children with special education needs and disabilities is the same as for every other child – to achieve well in education, find employment and go on to live happy and fulfilled lives.

He added: “We are looking carefully at how much funding for education will be needed in future years, as we approach the next spending review.”

London Councils could not publish borough-specific budget data, or confirm which boroughs had a deficit.

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Labour is right: it’s crucial that children are taught about climate breakdown in school

By: .

Today I am climate striking with my pupils. This policy puts the greatest threat to their future at the heart of their learning

It’s no longer possible to deny or ignore: we are in a climate crisis. The truth of the emergency announces itself regularly in our papers, on our phones, tablets and TVs. A headline about the world’s leading scientists declares millions will suffer drought, floods and be plunged into deeper poverty if carbon emissions aren’t halved by 2030 and global heating remains within 1.5C. Another reports that climate breakdown will likely increase the destructive power of storms like Cyclone Idai, which devastated Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe earlier this year – 2 million people were affected by what, according to the UN, may be the southern hemisphere’s worst weather-related disaster. And yet another reveals the destruction of coral reefs while calculating that 1 million species already face extinction. The silver lining, however tarnished, is that now we can do away with the noxious denial that has brought us to the edge of this precipice.

This week the Labour party has announced that it will make the climate crisis a compulsory element of education from primary onwards. It is one example of how our leaders can be proactive in the face of catastrophe. It is the kind of forward thinking that acknowledges the energy young people have brought to our streets. A generation frustrated with umming and ahing from those who really should know better but refuse to accept the woods are burning around them (literally in some cases), have begun to act for themselves. They came to the conclusion that the adults running the show would continue to drag their feet. And who could blame them?

In the same week the UK experienced its hottest ever winter day, only a handful of MPs bothered to attend a Commons debate on climate breakdown, one inspired by the thousands of schoolchildren who had gone on strike to protest about the climate crisis weeks earlier.

Labour’s policy highlights how little credit we have given the young thus far. An emergency that threatens their futures is not as readily taught as the history of the Tudors. In the yawning silence, young people like the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, and an estimated 1.4 million students across 150 countries who lead the school strike movement, have created momentum. Their resilience and resourcefulness has made the argument a simple one: human activity is choking our planet. In place of the deep inertia that has lead us here, the young have created an inventive rebellion.

By moving to make study of the climate crisis compulsory, Labour positions itself as a party invested in the young. It is a policy highlighting the empty paternalism of our current government, which assumes children haven’t the right to know the science of how we got here. Or, for that matter, what history and geography can teach about how the most vulnerable countries are those least responsible for our climate breakdown – countries that are disproportionately communities of colour. Why are our maths teachers not encouraged to relate the subject to this very real world problem? Students themselves have already worked out that the 12-year deadline for action is too late for many countries on the frontline of our emergency.

A good education should provide students with the knowledge and skills to navigate a future they will become adults within. By proposing to make the crisis required teaching, Labour acknowledges that silence, thus far, pretends the young are unable to pay attention to the betrayal of their futures.

Today I will be marching with my children as part of the #YouthStrike4Climate. I will be doing so because I know that it is a topic of which they are already aware. Maybe it is snatched references to air pollution, or snippets of dire warnings that arrive via news headlines, but it’s been impossible to shield them from the reality even if I wanted to.

The young across the world, baffled by how to get attention, have chosen to strike in order to prove they have agency. Told for so long by parents and teachers alike to be responsible, they have, like the children in Toni Morrison’s 1993 Nobel prize lecture, turned around to ask: “What could that possibly mean in the catastrophe this world has become?” Going on to demand: “How dare you talk to us of duty when we stand waist-deep in the toxins of your past?” When, invariably, today’s protest will be dismissed as of far less importance than Theresa May’s resignation, it will be another sign that an older political class are simply blind to a catastrophe already with us.

“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it,” wrote Frantz Fanon, in his seminal work on the trauma of colonisation, The Wretched of the Earth. The irony is that the climate strikes, led by the young, display a conscientious respect for the planet, grounded in the sense of duty and responsibility their elders have been so desperate to abandon.

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Special educational needs ‘It’s hard to watch your child struggle. All you can do is chase people’

By: Michael Savage.

As council budgets are slashed, desperate parents speak about their exhausting battle in the courts to protect the forgotten victims – their children

As a former bouncer working in north London nightclubs, John Roden thought he knew a thing or two about stressful situations. But taking on the care of his five-year-old granddaughter Hope brought his greatest confrontation. Hope is disabled, and her rare condition means she cannot walk unaided and communicates using a form of sign language.

“Caring for Hope is stressful at the best of times,” says Roden, one of a group of carers to launch a legal challenge heard in court last month against proposed cuts to special educational needs funding in Hackney, east London. “Hope came to me when I was 57. I’m 62 this year. All this is heaping a lot more pressure on us. It grinds you down. There’s so much going through my head that I’ve been forgetting simple things. You spread yourself thin and something has to give. But we can do it.”

When the council announced proposals that could cut spending by more than £300,000 over the next academic year, Roden was among those who agreed to take on the fight. Like many parents looking after a child with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), Roden describes an exhausting fight to secure the best support.

Fellow Hackney campaigner Dana Thompson’s daughter, Sade, 16, has narcolepsy and cataplexy, conditions that can cause her to fall asleep suddenly, or collapse. Thompson’s application for support was rejected four times before she received help – a battle that lasted 10 years.

“I couldn’t live with myself knowing I didn’t try one last time,” she says. “Unfortunately, many children have fallen through the net. That affects mental and physical health. With Sade, it has affected her.”

As councils nationwide face budget pressures that threaten them with bankruptcy, some are having to consider cuts to SEND funding that they would never have contemplated just a few years ago. Yet their desperation to balance the books has run up against the desperation of parents determined to secure support for their children. The clash is now being played out in court actions across England.

Alicia McColl is among the parents taking action against Surrey county council’s proposal for a £21m cut in its SEND budget. She has been battling for the right support for her 14-year-old son Kian, who has autism, hypermobility, dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. After years of campaigning, she is aware of the toll on her family. “All my money and inheritance went on my son’s education – on the battle,” she says. “The people who have missed out the most are my other two children. I try to make up for it now, but my eldest son is an adult and he missed out on a lot of my time. The impact is massive.”

Hopes have been raised by the success of a case in Bristol in the summer, in which a judge ruled that the council had unlawfully cut its SEND budget by £5m. Other campaigns are being drawn up in areas including Portsmouth, Gloucestershire and Sussex.

Hackney councillor Chris Kennedy insists everyone is “on the same side”, but adds that the court case “doesn’t address the fundamental issues that have led to councils up and down the country facing bankruptcy in their efforts to fund one of the most important services they provide”. Surrey county council said it was facing “huge financial pressure” and that it was wrong to describe the £21m saving as a cut “because we haven’t made or even proposed cuts to services”.

So what is causing the system to creak? The trouble, according to experts and council insiders, is that funding cuts have combined with recent education reforms to create a system loaded against councils – forcing them into cuts and legal battles with parents.

They point to 2014 changes designed to give “greater control and choice” to parents, which raised expectations about the support available and increased the legal responsibilities of councils. However, the new system was not matched with the necessary funding. With schools also under pressure to keep costs down and improve results, some are finding ways of removing SEND pupils from their rolls, or not accepting them in the first place.

That often leads to even higher costs for councils. Parents realised that some kind of national action was needed. A legal case has been launched against the government, with campaigners arguing that it is simply not providing sufficient funding. Among the parents in the group is Lorraine Heugh, who has faced cuts in funding for the care given to her son Nico, 15, who has autism and anxiety. “We had to go down the legal road and in the end they did supply the funding,” she says. “It didn’t stop there. The following September we had the same problem again. Now we’re in a situation where they have given a little bit of funding, but cut by half.

“The people who get forgotten are the children. For children like my son, when their needs are not met at school, it has a knock-on impact on them. It leads to children having breakdowns – why would you allow a child to go through that?”

Kirsty McFinnigan, from North Yorkshire, got involved through social media. After fighting for resources for her son Benedict, 14, she joined the legal battle out of “sheer and utter desperation”. “There’s too many people in this position,” she says. “My son is 14. I’m going to ultimately have to answer to him about why he didn’t get an education, so at least I can say I did everything I could.”

For Mary Riddell, who has fought her council in Birmingham over the support given to her nine-year-old daughter Dakota, it is simply about trying to be heard.

“We’ve had to fight every step of the way,” she says. “It is hard to watch your child struggle and all you can do is chase the people who are meant to be helping you – and knowing their hands are tied.

“I’m not holding out any hopes that they will instantly say, ‘here’s lots and lots of money’. But I would like them to take notice and understand what kind of effect these cuts are having.”

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