How SEND funding cuts are hitting vulnerable children

Special needs funding is now unsustainable and unacceptable – today's marches are justified, writes Paul Whiteman

Paul Whiteman

SEND National Crisis March: Protest marches are taking place across the country today, calling for more SEND funding

Today, thousands of people will gather in Westminster and more than 20 other locations around the country to call for more funding and support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Those marching will have the full backing of NAHT.

Our "Empty Promises" report, published at the start of this academic year, showed that 94 per cent of schools were finding it harder to resource the support required to meet the needs of pupils with SEND than they did two years ago.

What this means is that children with additional needs, from disability to mental health conditions to behavioural issues, are immediately severely disadvantaged.

One million of the recognised 1.28 million children with SEND do not have any additional funding afforded to them. That means that the financial burden of additional support penalises those mainstream schools that are the most inclusive.

This is unsustainable, and unacceptable.

These cuts have made second-class citizens of a generation of children. They had no say in the matter, they did not choose the times they were born in, and, particularly for those with additional needs, the idea of fair access to education is nothing more than an empty promise.

Lack of SEND funding

Schools want all of their pupils to succeed and want to provide them with whatever support they need to progress and achieve well, but they are seriously struggling to fund the SEND support their pupils need in the face of crippling budget pressures that force them to cut critical support staff. We urgently need the government to recognise the true scale of the problem. Immediate funding from the Treasury plus a long-term plan for SEND funding is what’s needed.

Our own data shows that only 2 per cent of schools think the top-up funding they receive is sufficient to meet individual Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) for pupils with SEND.

Some 70 per cent of NAHT members said that cuts to health and social care budgets had made it harder to support the needs of children with SEND in the past two years.

At the beginning of the month, at our annual conference, the education secretary announced a call for evidence, to better understand the challenges that schools and families are facing.

But our own research has already made this abundantly clear. Besides the data we collected, we had dozens of examples in our "Empty Promises" report. Here’s just two:

  • "A child arrived in September in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy. We provide 1:1 support and 2:1 for toileting. We have applied for top-up funding and we are still waiting eight months later."
  • "We have had no local authority educational psychologist for two years and have had to buy private EP reports at £520 a time. Speech and language professionals no longer work with the children in school, but make a termly visit and give recommendations, which we have to fund support for. Mental health services are so hard to access that we are now paying for our own counsellor, which takes up a very substantial portion of our funding."

The picture facing schools supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities is bleak. Not only are school budgets at breaking point, there have also been severe cuts to local authority health and social care provision. Schools are left struggling to meet the needs of our most vulnerable pupils.

Since our report was published in September, we have seen some small additional funding announcements, but they have been little more than sticking plaster measures.

The shortage of educational psychologists to work directly with children, in order to help them to get an EHCP, and then afterwards, once the plan is in place, is a critical factor.

At our conference, the secretary of state announced plans for an additional £31.6 million to train more than 600 new educational psychologists. While this is a welcome move, even if 600 high-calibre candidates can be found, it will still be a long while before pupils feel the benefit of their presence.

As one leader of a special school said to me recently, all too often, the successes of her students happened despite the system, not because of it. And that can’t be right.

We absolutely welcome the secretary of state’s focus on this issue, as the overall funding crisis cannot be solved without getting to grips with support for students with SEND. A call for evidence is welcome, as the issue is complex, but ultimately the solution is simple: more money from the Treasury is urgently needed, both for schools and health and social care services.

Paul Whiteman is the general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union.

The SEND National Crisis March – a series of marches across the country – takes place today (30 May), calling for more funding for special educational needs and disabilities

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