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Schools Struggling With SEN Support Finds Study

June 2, 2016

Schools in England are struggling to support the 1.1 million pupils with special needs or disabilities (SEND) in mainstream classrooms, a report says.

A survey of 1,100 school leaders found delays to assessments, insufficient budgets and cuts to local authorities were hampering the ability to cope.

The study by The Key, which provides leadership and management support to schools, calls for increased funding.

The government says it has increased funding for those with “high needs”.

Department for Education (DfE) statistics published last year showed there were more than 1.3 million children in England – 15% of pupils – identified as having special educational needs or disabilities.

How are children with special educational needs supported?

Of these, 1.1 million are in mainstream schools rather than special schools.

The research by The Key suggested:

  • 82% of mainstream schools in England do not have sufficient funding and budget to adequately provide for pupils with SEND
  • 89% of school leaders believe cuts to local authority services have had a detrimental impact on the support their school receives for pupils with SEND
  • Three-quarters of schools have pupils who have been waiting longer than expected for assessment of special educational needs or an education, health and care plan
  • 88% of school leaders think initial teacher training does not adequately prepare teachers to support pupils with SEND

Coping with special needs

Victoria Toulmin from County Durham has a 12-year-old son, Sam, with separation and anxiety disorder.

His condition means he’s severely anxious, almost all the time, she says.

“He is on the autistic spectrum, but his school has say that because he doesn’t misbehave in the classroom, his condition doesn’t warrant him a diagnosis,” she says.

Sam goes to a mainstream school, but his mother says he is not offered adequate support there.

“I have had meetings with the school, but they are rarely followed up. I received an email telling me that my son spends the majority of time during lunch and break times on his own.

“He needs some sort of counselling services. The school need to be supporting him and showing him that they are there to help.”

She adds: “I am a teaching assistant and I used to work with children with learning difficulties.

“I’ve been in the situation many times where I am supposed to be looking after just one child with special needs, but actually have to assist more than one child.”

Her concerns were reflected by one of the head teachers in the survey, who 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.”

Another head who took the survey commented: “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.”

The report follows government reforms, which came into effect in September 2014, that aimed to put each child and their family at the centre of discussions about support offered.

Under the Children and Families Act 2014, special educational needs statements and learning difficulty assessments (LDAs) have been replaced with education, health and care plans (EHCP) covering people up to the age of 25.

Primary strain

The Key survey suggests primary schools are under the most strain when it comes to providing for pupils with SEND.

Eight in 10 primary school leaders said their budget was insufficient, while seven in 10 at secondary school level raised concerns about funding.

Nine in 10 at primary level have had the support they receive for SEND provision affected by cuts to their local authority, while this was the case for eight in 10 secondary leaders.

Delays in assessment of SEND and long waits for EHCPs also appear to be more common for children of primary school age.

Eight in 10 primary schools have pupils who have been waiting longer than expected, while the figure is just over six in 10 at secondary schools.

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.”

Cllr Roy Perry, chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “We were clear with the Department for Education at the time that implementing the SEND reforms in the Children and Families Bill was significantly underfunded by the government and this has been borne out in reality.

“Councils are working hard to ensure all children and young people are being moved from SEND statements to EHCP by the deadline of 31 March 2018, but the transition process is complex.”

The DfE spokesman said: “Schools have a vital role to play in this work, which is why we’ve protected the overall school budget and increased the funding for children and young people with high needs by over £90m this year.

“Ensuring teachers are trained to have an understanding of the needs of pupils with SEND is a key part of our drive to give all children access to the education they deserve.”

SEND training will form part of the new core content for initial teacher training, the spokesman added.

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