A survey of 1,100 school heads has concluded that schools in England are struggling to support pupils with special needs, with delays to assessments, insufficient budgets and cuts to local authorities hampering their ability to cope. The Department for Education (DfE) figures state that there were more than 1.3 million children in England, 15% of pupils, identified as having special educational needs or disabilities. Of these, 1.1 million are in mainstream schools rather than special schools.
The research found that:
- 82% of mainstream schools do not have sufficient funding to adequately provide for pupils with SEND
- 89%of school leaders believe cuts to local authority services have had a detrimental impact on the support their school receives for pupils with SEND
- 75% of schools have pupils who have been waiting longer than expected for assessment of special educational needs, or an education, health and care plan
- 88% of school heads think initial teacher training does not adequately prepare teachers to support pupils with SEND
One school head remarked: School funding is so stretched that schools are unable to absorb any additional staffing and funding demands for children with SEND. The direction the curriculum is taking is also becoming less and less inclusive for these children, meaning schools need to look at alternative interventions which cost money and teacher time.’
Another head said: ‘Teachers cannot possibly have or expect to gain knowledge, experience and skills to cope with the many differing needs of children now coming into school.’ The report follows the Children and Families Act 2014, which aimed to put each child and their family at the centre of discussions about the support offered. Under the act, special educational needs statements and learning difficulty assessments have been replaced with education, health and care plans covering people up to the age of 25.
The survey found that 8 out of 10 primary school heads said their budget was insufficient, and 7 out of 10 among secondary schools.
Councillor Roy Perry, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: ‘We were clear with the DfE at the time that implementing the SEND reforms in the Children and Families Bill was significantly underfunded by the government and this has been borne out in reality. Councils are working hard to ensure all children and young people are being moved from SEND statements to EHCP by the deadline of 31 March 2018, but the transition process is complex.’
We are to inspect mental health provision in schools
Ofsted is to inspect the mental health services offered in secondary schools after the government accepted the recommendations of a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which said that schools were ideally placed to be ‘mental health hubs’ for young people, and could spot problems and secure treatment promptly. Inspectors already have the power to assess mental health provision, but only one-third of reports make any reference to them. The DfE said that in future assessments of mental health services would be a key part of routine inspections, meaning that a school will not get a top rating without good provision.
IPPR figures show that funding for ‘early intervention’ to help children with moderate problems has fallen from £3.2 billion in 2010–11 to £250 million this year, while 90% of school heads have reported rising anxiety, depression and other illnesses. The Government has committed an additional £1.25 billion for services, but only £142 million has been allocated for this financial year. The money is not ring-fenced and experts fear that the NHS could use the funds for other areas.
At last, training on how to deal with autism
After months of campaigning from charities, parents and MPs, teachers are to be taught how to support children with autism. Campaigners say that with more than 1 out of 100 children on the autism spectrum, and over 70% of them attending mainstream schools, every teacher will teach learners with autism at some point. A senior government source said that Morgan approached the chair of the initial teacher training review, Stephen Munday, and recommended that this is part of the core content that teachers follow.
He said: ‘She is passionate about this.’ The source confirmed autism will be now part of the core learning for teachers as part of their initial training following her recommendation. A recent NASUWT survey revealed that 6 out of 10 teachers had not been given the training required to teach learners with autism.
The announcement was welcomed by campaigners, Mark Lever, CEO of the National Autistic Society, said: ‘Teachers don’t need to be experts in autism. But a general knowledge of the lifelong condition and the different ways it can affect a child’s time in school will make a huge difference. For instance, some children really struggle with change, so much so that a new seating plan or lesson structure can be extremely distressing. Simple changes, like gradually preparing a child for changes and communicating them carefully, can make a huge difference. Every teacher deserves the right training, and every autistic child needs a teacher who understands them.’
Gordon Collins writes a fortnightly newsletter for schools, colleges, universities and other stakeholders working with young people aged 14–24. The article is an extract from the newsletters on mental health concerns.