As reported by BBC news, support for pupils who have special needs is “beyond crisis” in England and “sucking money from budgets” for all children, a report says
Nearly all schools (97%) responding to a survey by a head teachers’ union said they received insufficient funding to support pupils who had special needs. The National Association of Head Teachers says funding has to rise so all pupils can be supported to learn. The government said its review of the system aimed to improve things.
Funding for higher-level needs was rising 9.6% in 2022-23 and the Department for Education was providing £42m to projects for pupils who had special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). But the NAHT report, based on a survey of 1,500 head teachers, suggests nearly a third of schools have cut services in the past year. And the starkest findings relate to funding for education for pupils who have SEND.
“Special needs is beyond crisis in schools – it is sucking the money from budgets,” Lesley Roberts, head teacher of a Berkshire primary, said.
Simon Kidwell, head teacher of Hartford Manor Primary School, in Cheshire, said: “The moment we get a child moving to us with recognised special needs, we are already in deficit.”
The system – which requires schools to pay £6,000 a year from their own budget for each pupil who has Send, before they can receive any extra funds from the local authority – created a disincentive to recognise additional needs and offer support. And one pupil now attended a residential care setting, which may well have been avoidable if they had not been refused the early help the school requested at age seven.
Separately, parents and carers of children who have special needs have written to the prime minister, demanding better in-school provision. They are concerned the government review has had little input from affected families and may actually weaken the law, which the Department for Education denies.
Let Us Learn Too campaign co-founder Hayley Harding said: “Before my son was diagnosed with autism, I would never have believed the fight that families have to go to just to enable their children to learn, in England.
“The right laws are there but unfortunately many local authorities blatantly ignore them, leaving many children unable to go to school.
“This review is the perfect opportunity to rectify this and introduce accountability.”
Jason Bailey’s daughter, Aime, is autistic – and the anxiety her condition causes leads to reflex anoxic seizures, during which her heart briefly stops. Her local authority said she had no medical need for an education health and care plan (EHCP) – but no school would admit her without additional support, so the 12-year-old attends a unit offering short-term provision for children too ill for mainstream education.
Jason feels fortunate Aime has a place there – but the curriculum is very narrow and she is in a class of three, so it is hard to make friends.
“She wants to go to school and be able to get a full education, the same as any of her peers, in an environment that is nurturing enough to allow her to attend,” he says.
“It has been incredibly stressful, the amount of times we have been in tears and Aime’s been in tears thinking she is putting pressure on the family.
“There is no understanding from the local authority.
“The review taking place has no direct input from anyone who has involvement with Send children.
“And if you do not have people affected by it, how can you make an effective decision?”
Nicola Shortt’s son Hunter has a complex brain injury and attends a mainstream school, with full-time one-on-one assistance. Their local authority initially refused to assess him – and every year she has to battle to ensure his care plan is fit for purpose, she says, once resorting to paying a solicitor £900 to write to the council.
“It is exhausting – and it doesn’t end,” she says.
“Services for disabled children in general are just massively underfunded and we have seen cuts with successive governments to the point where service delivery is not viable.
“Parents have to keep going round and round this process or have the financial means to use solicitors.”
NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said despite the rhetoric on extra investment, school budgets were under enormous pressure.
“A far more ambitious programme of investment is required from the government if schools are going to be able to deliver the education that the current generation of pupils need and deserve,” he added.
Labour shadow education secretary Kate Green said schools were having to make cuts because of the government’s record of underfunding education. Local council bosses called for reforms to ensure special-needs funding was sustainable.