Special needs children are not getting the support they need!

Mass demonstration in London against school funding cuts
Mass demonstration in London against school funding cuts

CHILDREN and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are not getting the support they need, according to eight-in-ten (83%) education staff.

In addition, almost six-in-ten (58%) stated that pupils who are officially identified as having SEN do not receive the help they need to reach their potential. Almost 600 members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) working in state-funded schools in England responded to a survey on SEND provision in schools which helped inform ATL’s response to the Labour Party Review of SEND.

Two years after the introduction of the new SEND Code of Practice in September 2014, which changed the criteria used to identify SEND, 43% of members say many children with SEND are not eligible for government funding and support. New criteria means that pupils with complex or severe needs are eligible for government high needs funding support, but those with less complex needs such as dyslexia or dyspraxia, do not automatically receive support.

As a result, between January 2014 and January 2015, 200,000 pupils who were previously identified as having SEN were not transferred from SEN Statements onto the new Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) or SEN Support. Seventy-one per cent of respondents also said they feel the new system does not enable children with SEN to be identified fast enough, meaning that many are left without support for too long.

One primary teacher said: ‘Staff and funding shortages in SEN and not enough funds allocated to family support mean many children aren’t receiving support in a timely manner or are slipping through the net completely.’ A support staff member in a SEND role said: ‘Not all SEND students have enough support and our SEND department is very overworked.’

Another support staff member added: ‘The new SEND code has been quite difficult to implement at times, teachers don’t always have time to help with students who need extra assistance or provide enough work that is suitable for their needs.’ Although members said they are doing their best to support learners with SEND, anecdotally many feel they are not able to fully support them due to a lack of funding, training and time.

Dr Jo Toovey, a member from Reading who proposed a motion at ATL’s annual conference on SEND, said: ‘Most teachers receive very limited training on the identification and support of pupils with SEND during their initial teacher training, and continuing professional development within schools is inconsistent. Teachers are not being made aware of individuals with potential SEND due to a decreased number of identified cases on the school SEND register so cannot tailor the support to the needs of individual pupils.

‘All children and young people have the right to appropriate education and support in order to aspire and achieve. The current situation is depriving many potential learners with SEND of this.’

A member of support staff who teaches pupils at key stage (KS) 2 and 3 said: ‘Often the allocated funding is not used to support the individual child in need of it. Often children are placed in mainstream school and they do not have the resources to support them according to their needs and this impacts on them.’

Margaret Highton, a support staff member at KS2 from Lancashire, said: ‘We are drastically letting SEND children down because we are being asked to do so much more with less and less funding and support. Inclusion always sounded so much better on paper but the reality is devastating.’

An early years teacher said: ‘It’s frustrating and heart-breaking to see the amount of children not getting adequate support, let alone the in-depth support they need, due to lack of money, and the system’s reticence to actually put a child on the SEN register.’

A secondary teacher said: ‘EHCPs need to have less strict guidelines so that more students can get the help and support that they need. Currently, many wait for a long time to be assessed, and then they are found to be not eligible because they do not have issues within enough “different” categories. A student should be supported, whether they have dyslexia alone, or dyslexia and two or three other conditions at the same time. All students need the correct provision to aspire and achieve.’

A primary school teacher said: ‘The SENCO at our school is one of the hardest working members of the team. But something needs to be done in terms of preventing, rather than curing lots of the difficulties we come across. The government needs to put more systems, professionals and resources in place earlier, ie at pre-school and children’s centres, to earlier identify the families and children that will need support.’

A SEN support staff member in a secondary school said: ‘Lack of funding in my school and region has led to a massive culling of all support staff. The headmaster has had to choose between keeping teachers or support staff, and we’ve halved the amount of support with upwards of 16 EHCP children for next year. We will be forced to have temporary staff until Christmas leading to a reduction in the quality of support.’

Almost half (49%) stated they have not been able to access the support and training they need to enable them to meet the needs of pupils with SEND. Members reported there is a lot of inconsistent practice in identifying pupils with SEND at SEN Support level.

A support staff member in a secondary school said: ‘I don’t believe that schools have the funds to train, pay and use sufficient specialist support staff in schools to adequately support all children with SEND.’

An early years and KS1 teacher said: ‘Many pupils are just not “picked up” early enough – I feel there is not enough funding, or processes in place for assessment and subsequent support, from an early enough age.’

Of the 187 who said they are involved in applying for adjustments to support a pupils’ special needs, 44% felt that under the new system it took more time to process access arrangements and it was much more bureaucratic.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: ‘Unless the government provides significant and immediate additional funding the worrying situation we see now is likely to deteriorate further. The SEND Code of Practice was an ambitious and well intentioned reform, but until adequate resources are invested children and young people with SEND will continue to be let down.

‘With the tighter criteria for pupils to be eligible for SEN support, many are slipping through the net and losing their right to support altogether. ATL members are doing the best that they can, but too many find their hands tied by a lack of time, training and resources.

‘Education staff should be able to access high quality training on SEND throughout their careers and be given the time to do so. All trainee teachers should also receive high quality SEND training as a core part of their initial teacher education.’

ATL surveyed 585 education staff in state-funded schools in England throughout July and August 2016.