Over 90 per cent of headteachers believe it is getting harder to resource support for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
According to a survey by the NAHT headteachers' union, 94 per cent of heads are saying that it is now more difficult to resource SEND provision than it was two years ago, with 73 per cent blaming cuts to mainstream funding.
Respondents said cuts have led to a reduced number of the teaching assistants and pastoral staff who had previously played a major role in supporting vulnerable children.
Some 70 per cent of respondents said cuts to health and social care budgets are also making it harder to support the needs of children with SEND, with 83 per cent reporting that they have not received any funding from these budgets to support pupils with statements or education, health and care plans (EHCPs).
“The picture facing schools supporting children with special educational needs is bleak,” said NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman. “Without sufficient funding and a more coherent approach, the SEND code of practice is nothing more than an empty promise from government to parents and children.”
Long waiting times
A report accompanying the survey results, Empty Promises: the crisis in supporting children with SEND, reveals some of the difficulties in schools.
In one case, a respondent describes how a child with cerebral palsy arrived at school at the start of term in a wheelchair. “We have to provide 1:1 support and 2:1 for toileting – we have received not a penny,” they write. “[We] applied for top-up funding – still waiting eight months later.”
Another says that their local area has not had an educational psychologist in post for two years, meaning their school has had to buy the service in from a private provider “at £520 a time”.
One school leader says that the threshold for accessing child and adolescent mental health services is so high that pupils “need to have attempted suicide” for their case to be taken on.
In the survey, 39 per cent of school leaders said that children they had referred for an EHCP have waited more than six months for the plan to be provided – despite a statutory deadline of 20 weeks – and 10 per cent have waited for between a year and 18 months.
And, once an EHCP was in place, fewer than a third (32 per cent) of respondents felt the plan accurately reflected and helped to address the pupil’s needs.
Until a plan is in place, a school has to use its own budget to meet the child’s needs.
“One million of the recognised 1.28 million children with SEND do not have any additional funding afforded to them,” said Mr Whiteman. “That means that the financial burden of additional support penalises those mainstream schools that are the most inclusive. This is unsustainable.”
He added that it was “make or break time” for school funding, and urged the government to “recognise the scale of the problem and to secure an immediate increase in funding from the Treasury”.
Nadhim Zahawi, children and families minister, said: "We have undertaken the biggest special educational needs reforms in a generation, including the introduction of Education Health and Care plans, so that support is tailored to the needs of individuals and families are put at the heart of the process.
“We recognise that there is increasing pressure on schools and on high needs budgets, which is exactly why funding is rising to meet this.
"Core schools funding is increasing to £43.5 billion by 2020 - that's 50 per cent more per pupil in real terms than in 2000 - and within that total the high needs budget is £6 billion this year, the highest on record."