Increasing pressure on SEND

Written by: Kevin Courtney | Published:
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary, National Education Union

Cutting school and local authority budgets to the bone has put increasing pressure on schools trying to meet the needs of SEND pupils

Schools, local authorities and parents are deeply frustrated that meeting the needs of children with SEND is getting harder. The government’s own figures show that more than 2,000 children with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) or a Statement have no educational provision and are therefore not in school at all.

It is quite staggering that so many children and young people are being left with no access to proper education or support.

Changes to the system of funding allocation for high needs/SEND pupils have been made without conducting a proper assessment of the funding needed to provide them with high-quality learning. This has created an immediate crisis in SEND funding, and turmoil in local authorities.

The government is not protecting the overall level of funding for high needs/SEND pupils. Instead, it is cutting its real value when we take into account pupil numbers and inflation. This puts inclusion back, undermines progress and contradicts the government’s obligations to pupils with SEND.

This is not helped by the overall funding crisis in schools, the narrower range of curriculum subjects, and the way in which schools are competitively ranked.

Furthermore, the government’s recent cash injection for SEND does not introduce any new money into local authority budgets – this will not solve the long-term challenges local authorities face in delivering effective SEND provision.

Cutting school and local authority budgets to the bone has put increasing pressure on schools to meet the needs of SEND pupils. Children with EHCPs are entitled to extra funding to help schools meet their needs, but schools are expected to find the first £6,000 of this from their own budgets before local authorities are expected to step in.

Meanwhile, the funding which local authorities receive to support more complex SEND provision has not been sufficiently protected by the government. The SEND support system has also been extended to include young people aged 19 to 25, yet local authorities have not received sufficient extra money to deliver on this. Clearly this is an untenable situation with the most vulnerable of our children missing out on life chances as a result.

For years, a large number of local authorities have plugged the gaps in SEND funding only through clever accounting, by moving money out of their main schools budget and into SEND provision. Robbing Peter to pay Paul will only work once, before budgets for SEND pupils reach breaking point.

As a result of this inadequate funding thousands of children with SEND are not “officially” recognised as needing extra support because schools cannot cater for them – since 2013/14 there has been a 35 per cent decrease in the number of children identified as SEND in schools, yet the number of children diagnosed with conditions like autism is steadily rising.

A massive reduction in teaching assistants, one-to-one interventions and an increase in class sizes means that these children are being let down.
Children and young people requiring an EHCP to fully access education are not being recognised and are therefore missing out on vital support. The number of legal challenges by parents trying to ensure their child is given suitable provision in school has risen since 2011/12 by 33 per cent, with an average of 82 per cent winning their appeal in SEND tribunals since 2012.

Children with SEND account for almost half of all permanent and fixed-term exclusions. Funding cuts have undermined the personalised provision which, in many cases, has enabled pupils who have complex or challenging behaviour to receive support early on and help them stay in school.

Cuts to staff, resources, training and services vital for the support of such children is having a devastating impact on their future chances in life.
The financial strain placed upon schools and local authorities regarding SEND provision has become unsustainable and is limiting the ability of local authorities to meet their statutory duties for children living with SEND.

Effective action to address the full extent of the SEND funding problem is urgently needed so local authorities can make humane judgements for children living with SEND and ensure all children can fulfil their potential. Schools need to have sufficient funding to meet the needs of all pupils and SEND provision needs to be protected, not siphoned off to prop up other underfunded areas of the school budget.

Government must acknowledge the problems and act immediately to protect the most vulnerable children in society, before more irreparable damage is done to SEND provision. Children with SEND can no longer remain invisible.


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