Special educational needs ‘crisis’ harming provision for children – union

A lack of funding for children with special educational needs in schools has led to a “full-blown crisis” and is harming provision for pupils, a union has warned.

Nearly all school leaders (99%) believe the funding they receive for pupils with special education needs and disabilities (Send) is insufficient to meet children’s needs, a poll has found.

A survey, of 1,048 members of the school leaders’ union NAHT in England in April, found many have been forced to reduce the number of teaching assistants or hours worked by teaching assistants – even though they offer individual support to children with Send.

Nearly four in five (78%) said they had needed to do so in the last three years due to funding pressures, while a further 84% anticipated they would be forced to do so in the next three years.

Some school leaders shared fears with the union that funding shortages mean they are unable to keep children and staff safe.

The findings have been published on the second day of the NAHT’s annual conference in Newport in Wales.

Delegates at the school leaders’ union conference are due to debate a series of motions on support for Send on Saturday.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said all political parties should pledge “system-wide investment” needed to tackle the crisis head on.

School leaders also told the union about the additional pressures caused by schools having to try to fill the gaps left by under-resourced services, including health and social care services.

Ian Kendal, executive headteacher at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Multi Academy Trust in Essex, said the funding received for pupils with Send is “not enough”.

He said: “There just isn’t capacity within special schools in our area, meaning we are supporting even more pupils with complex needs within our mainstream settings.

“We believe in inclusion and are currently doing our best with the limited funds, but, put simply, it is not good enough for the children with the most complex needs – they deserve so much more than we can give them.

“It should never have come to this, and we need the government to urgently put more funding into the system to ensure all children’s needs are met, especially the most vulnerable.”

Mr Whiteman said: “School leaders are passionate about offering the best possible education and support to all pupils, but they are being left in an impossible position.

“Schools face a perfect storm of growing demand to support more pupils with special educational needs at the same time as costs have increased massively and are still rising.

“The blame lies squarely with the Government, which has failed to provide anything like enough funding to enable schools, local authorities and wider services to meet this demand.

“This is a full-blown crisis and bad news for children, families, schools and local authorities.

“Ahead of the general election, it is incumbent upon all political parties to pledge the system-wide investment needed to tackle this crisis head on.”

In a speech to hundreds of school leaders on Friday, Mr Whiteman called for the chaotic system to be fixed urgently.

He said: “Put simply, the number of pupils requiring Send support is spiralling and the funding to provide that support is dwindling.

“The practice of reallocating funding set aside for these pupils to balance the existing deficits in local authorities’ high-needs budgets is unacceptable. It’s stealing resource away from the children who need it most and it has to end.”

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesman said: “We are helping to ensure that all children have the chance to reach their potential by increasing funding for children and young people with complex needs to over £10.5 billion next year – up 60% in the last five years.

“We are also providing £2.6 billion to support the creation of places for children and young people with Send, more than tripling the previous level of investment, so parents can be reassured that their child will receive the right support at the right time, close to home.

“Combined with the special and AP free schools’ programme, this is helping to increase capacity, creating over 60,000 specialist places across the country.”