A SEND crisis is unfolding...

Written by: Paul Whiteman | Published:
Paul Whiteman, general secretary, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT)

There is a crisis in supporting children with SEND. The funding that schools receive is simply inadequate to meet the increasing levels of need, says Paul Whiteman

Last month, hundreds of school leaders, teachers, health and education experts, psychologists, parents and carers gathered in London at two conferences organised by the NAHT and dedicated to SEND.

Sadly, the picture facing schools is bleak. Not only are school budgets at breaking point, there have been severe cuts to health and social care provision. Schools are being let down on two fronts and are struggling to meet children’s needs.

The NAHT’s report Empty promises revealed that 94 per cent of schools are finding it harder to resource the support required to meet the needs of pupils with SEND than they did two years ago. Cuts to mainstream school funding have resulted in a reduction in school staff, with teaching assistants and pastoral staff especially hard hit. These are the people most involved in supporting children with SEND.

The same report found that 73 per cent of schools are finding it harder to resource support for pupils with SEND due to cuts to teaching assistants and pastoral staff.

Schools are also finding themselves far less able to rely on outside specialist services, as cuts to health and social care have been just as severe. Schools are seeing far less outside help from, for example, educational psychologists or speech and language therapists.

Thirty per cent of the school leaders we surveyed do not receive any services from health and social care to support their pupils.

One million of the recognised 1.28 million children with SEN do not have any additional funding afforded to them.

People think that an official diagnosis, resulting in an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), comes with extra money with which to address a child’s problems. But 83 per cent of the school leaders we surveyed said that they do not receive any funding from health and social care budgets to support pupils with Statements or EHCPs – and that is critical as education funding is not sufficient on its own.

That means that the financial burden of additional support penalises those schools that are the most inclusive. The more SEND children a school takes on, the more money they must find – and that money just is not available right now.

This means that schools are finding themselves unable to fully meet the needs of children with SEND, as hard as they try, and more and more children are having to leave mainstream schools. They are then faced with sometimes very long waits for special school places to be available. And special schools are also under severe funding pressures, so this additional burden on them is very concerning.

Six of the 11 motions that addressed school funding at NAHT’s annual conference last year were specifically about funding for children with SEND, showing how pressing school leaders’ concerns in this area are. Anonymous feedback from NAHT members reveals the reality faced by many schools. Here are just two examples:

  • “We cannot support high levels of SEND on current budgets. SEND funding is not anything like what is needed to cover high needs.”
  • “There are no more cuts we can make, all children are suffering but in particular our most vulnerable SEND learners as we cannot provide the support they need because we have had to cut support staff so severely.”

We urgently need the government to recognise the scale of the problem and to secure an immediate increase in funding from the Treasury – and not just for schools. Education cannot do it alone. Schools need the support of specialist services to meet vulnerable children’s needs. The government must also provide more funding for health and social care services.

Without sufficient funding and a more coherent approach, the SEND Code of Practice that set out the future of education for pupils with SEND in 2014 is nothing more than an empty promise from government to parents and children.

  • Paul Whiteman, general secretary, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

Further information

Empty promises: The crisis in support children with SEND, NAHT, September 2018: http://bit.ly/2F5XXoM


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