Unions respond to PAC report on SEND system

The National Education Union and the Association of School and College Leaders have commented on the report by the Public Accounts Committee on support for SEND pupils

Commenting on a report published today which sets out the damage caused by failings in SEND provision, Rosamund McNeil, assistant general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Dramatic funding cuts to local authority and school budgets have led to a loss in confidence for many parents that their child will receive appropriate SEND support.  For many the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) is seen as the only way of accessing the education provision their child needs. Sadly, this doesn’t always provide the golden ticket they are looking for.

“Schools have found it challenging to continue to remain inclusive in the face of widespread education and local authority funding cuts, leading to reduced support staff numbers and bigger class sizes alongside the ever-present testing and accountability culture.

“As the Public Accounts Committee report makes clear, the government approach on support has let SEND children down.  The report’s recommendations may begin to address some of the disparities, but the Covid-19 crisis offers a real chance to ‘build back better’ in education. Covid-19 means we have to put children’s learning needs and interests at the heart of the offer in the classroom. We need inclusion to be the primary goal after Covid-19. In particular, we need to support staff to respond to children’s behaviour and emotional needs very flexibly when they return or we will see a huge rise in exclusions.

“In order to address the inequalities in the system we need to place wellbeing and the creation of a sense of belonging in school communities firmly in the spotlight.  Let us respond to the current health crisis and the flexibility in the curriculum which it demands and take that forward with us to create a more inclusive approach to national policy.”

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Commenting on the report, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The PAC’s report paints a stark picture of a system for supporting children with special educational needs which is poorly funded and ridiculously complicated.

“It is important to understand that many teachers and support staff do an amazing job for these young people despite these circumstances, but they need more backing from the government in the form of sufficient funding, and a system which is more streamlined and less bureaucratic.

“We welcome the fact that the government has recently launched a review of the special educational needs system, and the allocation of more funding in 2020/21, but we need to be clear that this extra money is not enough to meet demand, and the financial strain will continue.

“This report comes at a time when many young people with special educational needs are at home because of the coronavirus crisis and the consequent shutdown of schools to most pupils.

“When schools reopen, these children are likely to need the most support, in terms of their wellbeing as well as their academic work. This makes it even more important to address the funding shortfall and systemic problems as a matter of urgency.”

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