CASH-STRAPPED schools in England have been forced to cut support for special educational needs and disabilities (Send) pupils, a survey has revealed – after up to a third of head teachers had to slash their budgets last year.
School heads and leaders union the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which carried out the survey, said that all those school leaders polled who responded (97%) said that funding for Send pupils is insufficient, and 95% said funding is also insufficient for those on education, health and care plans with greater needs.
Four-fifths said they had been forced to buy extra services, including speech and language therapy, educational psychologists and mental health support, which prior to austerity would have been provided by local councils, often more cost-effectively.
One head teacher of a primary school in Staffordshire said that in determining how much support should be available for Send pupils, she had to ‘balance the needs of one child against the needs of a class of children’, a calculation that is becoming increasingly difficult as more children with complex needs became entitled to additional support after reforms in 2014.
Almost a third of the 1,500 heads in England who responded to the survey said they had been forced to slash their overall budgets in 2020-21, with 35% saying they would make further cuts this academic year.
One in four predicted their budget would be in deficit in 2021-22. According to the heads, this has resulted in cuts to staff numbers and salaries, mental health and wellbeing support for pupils and extra activities such as school trips.
One headteacher of a primary school in Berkshire said her school was no longer able to employ Send coordinators, and could only afford teaching assistants to support a small number of pupils with the greatest needs.
‘Special needs is beyond crisis in schools, it’s sucking the money from budgets,’ she said.
NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman added: ‘The crisis in funding for pupils with special educational needs is clear for all to see, and is putting significant pressure on school budgets.’
He said the upcoming Send review should be published as soon as possible, and should pave the way for schools to receive additional funding, rather than simply changing the way the existing budget is allocated between schools, which ‘will not solve the problem’.
James Bowen, NAHT director of policy, said schools are struggling to afford Send provision because the government has failed to underpin the new system with adequate funding.
‘The increased demand and lack of funding has created a huge gap between the provision schools are expected to make and the resources they receive,’ he said.
He added: ‘The government has acknowledged there is a real crisis when it comes to Send funding and a review is under way, but currently we have seen little sign of progress.’
The government is falling short of its promised investment in education recovery by offering pupils catch-up on the cheap, and squeezing out and undermining skilled and qualified supply teachers.
The NASUWT Teachers’ Union is warning that the lack of clarity over the rates of pay for tutors working as part of the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) threatens to undermine the ability of supply teachers to obtain work at a level of pay that reflects their status as qualified teachers.
This is further exacerbated by the fact that some providers are recruiting volunteers to act as tutors.
The union’s General Secretary, Dr Patrick Roach, said: We need a teacher-led education recovery and renewal in order to secure the best outcomes for children and young people from the disruption of the last 18 months.
‘Supply teachers, with their wealth of experience and knowledge, have enormous potential to successfully help children and young people catch up and recover their learning: and yet ministers are encouraging schools to make use of a tutoring programme which gives no guarantees that children will be taught by qualified teachers or over the pay those tutors will receive.
‘Children and young people deserve better than catch-up on-the-cheap.
‘Ministers can and should take action to ensure that all tutors are fully qualified and remunerated at the commensurate rate on the national pay scale and that supply teachers are part of the plan for education recovery.’
Jane Peckham, NASUWT Deputy General Secretary, said in advance of today’s NASUWT’s Supply Teacher Consultation Conference, said: ‘Ministers have serially failed to take action to address the exploitative practices of many supply teacher agencies which often fail to provide supply teachers with the pay rates and contractual rights they are entitled to.
‘During the pandemic many supply teachers have been hit with a double blow of a lack of both employment opportunities and access to furlough pay.
‘Without guarantees on remuneration or the qualifications of its personnel, the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) risks further entrenching downward pressure on rates of pay and undermining employment opportunities for supply teachers.’
Meanwhile, the NASUWT in Wales has welcomed the Welsh government’s commitment to implement the Independent Welsh Pay Review Body’s recommendation of a 1.75% uplift to all teachers’ pay, but repeated its concerns that teachers’ pay is still too low.
Commenting on the Minister for Education and Welsh Language Jeremy Miles’ written statement, Dr Patrick Roach said: ‘Teachers’ pay in Wales continues to be too low, and the NASUWT will continue to campaign for a substantial teachers’ pay increase.
‘However, teachers in Wales commend the Independent Pay Review Body for rejecting the Westminster government’s public sector pay freeze by recommending a 1.75% uplift to all teachers in Wales and welcome that this has been accepted by the Minister.
‘Whilst schools are struggling to get back on their feet after shouldering significant and unforeseen costs throughout the pandemic, delivering the pay award and costs of pay progression must be made a priority for schools.
‘It is right that the Independent Welsh Pay Review Body (IWPRB) continues to work to address the damage done to the teaching profession as a result of years of the failed and divisive policies imposed on teachers in Wales by the Westminster government.
‘The NASUWT encourages the Welsh government to fully and appropriately implement the Review Body’s recommendations.’