The workload of staff responsible for special educational needs and disability in schools has rocketed, a union has said, as a report finds staff increasingly struggle to access vital support services for a growing group of pupils.
Shrinking budgets and a lack of expertise locally mean that schools are faced with long waiting lists to access mental health services, just a few days a year with educational psychologists, and a limited pool of speech and language therapists, according to the NAHT headteachers’ union.
As access to support services worsens, SEND coordinators (Sendcos) and school leaders are having to pick up the work, the NAHT claims. According to the union’s survey of headteachers, Sendcos and middle leaders, just one in 10 believes that new joint working arrangements between schools and outside services are working well.
The finding comes despite one of the central tenets of the recent SEND reforms being improved coordination between education, health and social care.
James Bowen, director of NAHT Edge, the middle leaders’ section of the union, told TES that the issue was “certainly getting no better” as local authority funding was eroded and the number of children needing support rose.
The majority of Sendcos and leaders are not confident that a joint working approach is benefiting pupils, and almost one in five report that the implementation of changes is only in the “very early stages” (see graphic, above).
Tony Draper, headteacher of Water Hall Primary School in Milton Keynes, told TES: “There’s a significant amount of children who don’t even get on the radar. The early intervention opportunities that could prevent so much are missed.”
On the lack of coordination between the services, he added: “What tends to happen is we finish, we walk away and the child is left in a vacuum where the only crutch they have got is education.”
The one-time president of the NAHT added: “At the end of the day we are teachers, not mental health specialists. It is putting a sticking plaster over a huge wound in many respects.”
Bev Sheppard, Sendco at the Deans Primary School in Manchester, has seen her workload rise because of a lack of specialists.
The school has had to pay a private educational psychologist to supplement the local authority specialist, as it has become increasingly difficult to meet demand. But not all schools will be able to afford this support as budgets tighten.
Ms Sheppard has also had to deliver bereavement and speech and language therapy programmes, on top of implementing all the changes from the SEND reforms.
“It is very difficult and a Sendco is supposed to be an expert in everything. [Dealing with a pupil bereavement has] fallen on my shoulders because there is nobody around that I can get to work with the child. We have to do it. And I am in no way shape or form trained to do that,” she said.
The latest SEND code of practice calls for “classroom teachers to take responsibility for the learning of all their pupils” – but the report finds that only one in five Sendcos feel that this has happened.
Ms Sheppard, who is also a deputy head, added that Sendcos who also taught were finding it a “massive struggle” to juggle the paperwork with additional responsibilities. These include training teachers and welfare staff on how to deal with children, and supporting parents in difficult situations.
The report calls for greater focus on SEND in teacher training and CPD, as well as an assurance from the government that the lack of access to support services will be addressed and the reforms adequately funded.
A spokeswoman said that the Department for Education was “determined” that children would be supported to reach their potential, adding: “We have protected core high-needs funding and earlier this year announced an additional £80 million to support charities and councils working with children with SEND.
“We are also putting a record £1.4 billion into children and young people’s mental health, and investing in better links between these services and schools.”