teacher 2Mainstream schools are struggling to support the 1.1 million pupils with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), with delays to assessments, insufficient budgets and cuts to local authorities all cited as major factors.

More than two-thirds (68%) of schools in England are calling for a greater focus on children with SEND in ‘mainstream’ education policy making, according to findings released today by The Key – an organisation that provides leadership and management support to schools.

The findings, based on the views of more than 1,100 school leaders, reveal far-reaching and systemic issues in the support currently available to children with SEND. More than 8 in 10 (82%) schools have insufficient funding and budget to adequately provide for their pupils with SEND, and 89% of school leaders said they had seen the support they receive for these children affected detrimentally by cuts to local authorities’ services.

In addition, 75% of schools have pupils who have been waiting longer than the expected maximum time frame of 6 weeks for an assessment of SEN or an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan.

These findings come more than a year after wide-ranging reforms to SEND provision, intended to ensure children’s needs are properly met, came into effect in autumn 2014.

Budget issues associated with SEND provision, and the wider implications of these, was a recurring theme from respondents to The Key's survey. One headteacher said: “Funding for pupils with SEN has become extremely difficult to access this academic year and this has a detrimental impact on staffing and the welfare of our pupils.”

Cathy Earley, headteacher of a nursery school in the northwest of England, said: “School funding is so stretched that schools are unable to absorb any additional staffing and funding demands for children with SEND. The direction the curriculum is taking is also becoming less and less inclusive for these children, meaning schools need to look at alternative interventions which cost money and teacher time.”

When asked if initial teacher training adequately prepares teachers to support pupils with SEND, 88% school leaders said they don’t believe it does. One headteacher explained: “Teachers cannot possibly have or expect to gain knowledge, experience and skills to cope with the many differing needs of children now coming into school.”

However, last week the government said that the initial teacher training review, chaired by Stephen Munday, will recommend that special educational needs are included in core teacher training.

Wake-up call

Fergal Roche, chief executive of The Key said: “A year on from major reforms to the national system for SEND provision, these findings represent an important wake-up call from school leaders. Schools need adequate funding and a holistic, well co-ordinated and resourced system of support behind them to provide effectively for children with SEND.”

While the findings show that pressure is being felt across the school system, primary schools appear to be under the most strain when it comes to providing for pupils with SEND, with 84% of primary school leaders saying their budget is insufficient and 91% having had the support they receive for SEND provision affected by cuts to their local authority.

At secondary school level, 70% of school leaders raised concerns about their funding and budget for SEND provision, and 81% experienced diminished SEND support because of cuts to their local authority.

Delays in assessments of SEN and long waits for EHC plans also appear to be more prevalent for children of primary-school age. Almost 8 in 10 (79%) primary schools have pupils who have been waiting longer than the expected time, compared to 62% of secondary schools.