The latest data reveals that there are around 1.4 million pupils in English schools who have been identified as having special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Yet, research has revealed that some children with SEND have been missing out on specialist support, a problem which has been exacerbated by chronic underfunding in the sector.
A report by Ofsted (undertaken before the pandemic) found that some pupils with SEND are having negative learning and development experiences. This was mainly due to gaps in understanding of pupils’ needs and starting points.
The report also found that pupils with SEND were more likely to experience social isolation and miss learning opportunities, as they are often taken out of the classroom for intervention activities. This means they “might not be getting all the high-quality teaching that they need to have a chance of succeeding”, the report states.
Some parents and carers believed that lesson content was not always easily accessible, and their child was not always given the chance to master the basics before being moved forwards. This was sometimes because schools were not always teaching the curriculum in the right order, or matching the curriculum with needs of pupils with SEND.
For this reason, Ofsted are calling for all teachers, teaching assistants and Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCos) to have strong subject knowledge and know how best to develop and teach curriculum in order to support pupils with SEND.
Councils in England are planning spending cuts and reviews for SEND services
The findings from the Ofsted report come just as figures compiled by the Observer reveal that councils in England are planning spending cuts and services reviews after facing a funding shortfall of more than half a billion pounds.
With government rules preventing schools from using their other reserves to help fund the SEND system, campaigners fear children could lose some of their much-needed support.
Unless the government steps in, this problem is only going to get worse, as the number of children with SEND and Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans continues to grow year on year.
As of January 2021, there were 430,697 children and young people with EHC plans maintained by local authorities. This is an increase of 40,588 (10%) from 390,109 as of January 2020. This is driven by increases across all age groups, with largest percentage increases in the 20-25 age group (17%).
The system is clearly struggling to cope with the rising numbers of children who need EHC plans, which means greater numbers are being educated in inappropriate settings.
The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the financial situation for many schools
The funding currently provided by the government is not sufficient to match this increase in demand, with many local councils drastically overspending their SEND budgets.
According to The Guardian, Surrey council confirmed it overspent its high needs budget by £35m in 2020-21, and is forecasting a further overspend of £24m in 2021-22. Kent forecast an overspend of £35.8m in 2020-21, and 14 other councils forecast overspends of £10m to £18m.
The government has acknowledged this issue and has increased funding, announcing a sum of £730m for 2021-22. But critics say this isn’t enough given the scale of need.
The National Educational Union remind the government that the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the financial situation for many schools, who have had to incur additional costs for higher grade personal protective equipment (PPE), duplicate sensory resources to stop cross contamination, and additional cleaning staff. None of these additional costs have been reimbursed by the government, placing additional financial pressure on a sector which was already severely underfunded.
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary for the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “The picture facing schools supporting children with special educational needs is bleak. Not only are school budgets at breaking point, there have been severe cuts to health and social care provision. Schools are left struggling to meet the needs of our most vulnerable pupils. Without sufficient funding and a more coherent approach, the SEN code of practice is nothing more than an empty promise from government to parents and children.”