Schools at breaking point as funding pressures hit support for SEND pupils, says NEU

By agency reporter
February 5, 2019

The results of a snapshot survey of 1,026 primary and secondary school teachers in England, shows the alarming levels of inadequate and underfunded provision for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). School and local authority budget cuts are making it nigh impossible to provide the quality of education that every child with SEND is entitled to and which teachers, special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) and school staff want to be giving.

When asked to describe the situation at their school, and whether there are enough appropriately trained staff to support SEND pupils effectively:

  • 81 per cent said that there was ‘less than enough’ staff.
  • Only 14 per cent believed that there was ‘about enough’ or ‘more than enough’.

Respondents went further, describing their personal situation in compelling detail:

  • “Half of the teaching assistants were made redundant. Only seven TAs for nearly 800 kids.”
  • “Number of SEND support staff is a quarter of what it was ten years ago.”
  • “Cut by over 50 per cent due to budget cuts.”
  • “Class sizes too large, so even when support is available, it’s ineffective.”
  • “28 students on SEND register and no support. I teach a practical subject where it is dangerous.”

When asked if there has been a change in the number of learning support assistants or TAs at their school since 2017, as a consequence of real-terms funding cuts:

  • 73 per cent confirmed there were now fewer posts.
  • As a consequence of these staff cuts, 94 per cent of respondents confirmed that it was having a negative effect on the support which schools are able to give SEND pupils.

The survey also asked what barriers are faced by SEND pupils in the school environment:

Excessive waiting times for access to CAMHS, speech and language or behaviour support, is true for 95 per cent of primary schools and 75 per cent of secondary schools, according to respondents.

The situation is generally worse for primary schools where 84 per cent reported excessive waiting times for assessment of need/EHC (education, healh and care) plans, compared to 65 per cent in secondary schools. 56 per cent of primaries confirmed there are no local specialist services available to them, compared with 40 per cent of secondaries.

  • Over one-third of primary school respondents (38 per cent) said that a school or parent must personally fund pupil assessments as the local authority cannot. This compares with a quarter (25 per cent) of secondary respondents.
  • Across the board, 82 per cent of respondents confirmed that SENCOs do not have enough time to support classroom teachers.

90 per cent of respondents said these barriers conspire to make it harder for pupils to access the curriculum or succeed in learning. 94 per cent confirm that the pressures on teaching are increasing as a direct result and 59 per cent said pupils miss school, part of the school day or part of the curriculum.

Finally, respondents were asked to consider the National Audit Office’s question as to how support, and outcomes, for pupils with SEND could be improved within current funding levels. The responses were overwhelmingly of a piece:

  • “Not within current funding levels. It’s impossible.”
  • “Less paperwork? But really, they can’t. Funding must be increased for improvement.”
  • “We need more people on the ground.”
  • “To be honest, maintaining current funding levels is out of the question – education is in crisis.”
  • “Within current funding? No way. Schools are stretched tight!”
  • “Teachers want to meet the needs of all children but we are not experts. We now have to buy in to essential services and we cannot afford to do so.”
  • “We have children on part-time timetables as adequate support cannot be given. We have staff off on stress as adequate support cannot be given. Both of these could be alleviated by better funding.”

Reacting to the findings, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “These are shocking reports from the frontline of teaching. The infrastructure to support SEND pupils is wearing away. Schools do everything they can, but the barriers and waiting lists created by this Government’s actions, are having terrible effects on pupils who need help now. It is alarming that excessive waiting times are more pronounced in primary schools, where early intervention is so vital, and that so many children are on part-time timetables.

“These facts are plain to schools and parents. It therefore beggars belief that in spite of successive reports showing the real experience of teachers and school leaders, the Department for Education simply digs its heels over funding. The NEU will continue to campaign for our schools to get the funding they need to give children the education they deserve.”

The survey of NEU members in primary and secondary schools was conducted from 10-11 January 2019.

* National Education Union https://neu.org.uk/

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