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Funding cuts 'put support for disabled children at risk'

Funding cuts could leave schools and colleges unable to meet their legal obligations to support disabled pupils, a teaching union has warned.

The warning came after research by the ATL found schools were providing a growing amount of support for disabled pupils, but were concerned that staff did not have the expertise or training to properly meet the needs of these children.

A survey of more than 500 education staff, published by the union at its annual conference in Liverpool today, found 65 per cent of teachers believed their school had provided more support to physically disabled pupils in the past two years.

Almost half (49 per cent) said their school or college had more pupils with physical disabilities than it did two years ago, and 56 per cent said it had more than it did five years ago. Many teachers told the ATL this was due to increased awareness of such conditions.

However, 19 per cent said there was no funding to cover additional supervision or support for physically disabled pupils, and 11 per cent said there was no additional supervision or support. Thirteen per cent said there was no additional training for staff to help deal with pupils’ disabilities.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said: “Since this government has cut funding, which has drastically damaged SEN provision, we fear many schools and colleges are unable to meet their legal obligations for disabled pupils under the Equality Act 2010.

“The act legislates for equal, and in some cases additional adjustments, to enable these pupils to flourish and achieve their potential. It’s morally right and what’s more, it is the law.

“Our survey suggests SEN provision is woefully inadequate in many schools and colleges, following an increase in the amount of support needed to provide for physically disabled pupils.”

Responding to the ATL’s survey, a member of support staff in a primary school in Worcestershire said: “There are more children with special requirements, but many staff in mainstream schools are not equipped with the skills or allocated the time to do a good enough job.”

The union claims funding cuts have led to redundancies among special educational needs teachers and support staff, a move that has caused schools and colleges to lose “vital expertise”.

Fifty three per cent said their college had “robust procedures” for sharing information about children with physical conditions. Fourteen per cent said training on support for those children was only provided if it was requested, and 12 per cent said no training was given at all.

An early years teacher from Berkshire said: “Training should be given as part of initial teacher training ensuring newly qualified teachers have a basic understanding of pupils’ needs and how to support them effectively.”  

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