Children with SEND let down by system-wide failings, warn schools

New data from The Key highlights the struggle of mainstream schools to support 1.1million[1] pupils with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) amidst delays to assessments, insufficient budgets and cuts to local authorities.

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 new findings released today by The Key – the organisation providing 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 eight in 10 (82%) schools across the country have insufficient funding and budget to adequately provide for these pupils, and almost nine in 10 (89%) school leaders have seen the support they receive for these children affected detrimentally by cuts to local authorities’ (LAs’) services.

Adding to this pressure, three-quarters (75%) of schools have pupils who have been waiting longer than the expected maximum time frame of six weeks[2] for an assessment of special educational needs (SEN) or education, health and care 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 in comments left by those who completed 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 north west 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, almost nine in 10 (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”.

Speaking about the findings, 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. More than eight in 10 (84%) primary school leaders say their budget is insufficient and more than nine in 10 (91%) have had the support they receive for SEND provision affected by cuts to their LA.

At the secondary school level, seven in 10 (70%) school leaders raised concerns about their funding and budget for SEND provision, and more than eight in 10 (81%) experienced diminished SEND support because of cuts to their LA.

Delays in assessments of SEN and long waits for education, health and care plans also appear to be more prevalent for children of primary-school age. Almost eight in 10 (79%) primary schools have pupils who have been waiting longer than the expected time, alongside just over six in 10 (62%) secondary schools.

From Monday 6th June 2016, The Key will be running a #SENDmatters campaign to raise awareness, drive positive outcomes and make a difference for children with SEND.

For more information on how you can get involved, visit: #SENDmatters campaign 2016

References
1 Figure calculated from the latest school census data on pupils with SEND in mainstream schools in England: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england-january-2015
2 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/398815/SEND_Code_of_Practice_January_2015.pdf
About the survey
The Key invited a sample of its members to complete its annual survey in January 2016. The questionnaire for this study was designed by The Key and conducted online using Survey Monkey. 1,188 school leaders completed the full survey. The survey response data was weighted to match the population profile of schools in England in terms of region, school phase and school type, so the data described in this summary can therefore be taken to provide an indication of the opinions of school leaders in mainstream schools across England.

 

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