This article shares my thoughts about who is affected during the current SEN budget crisis. It looks at how various groups of stakeholders may be affected and what impact it has in the classroom.
Over the past few years, I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of the SEN funding crisis close up. Parents at a complete loss on how to help their child, support staff losing their much-loved jobs, staff juggling so many different jobs and roles that they have crumbled under the pressure and most importantly children in tears as they struggle to access the demanding curriculum.
So who does really suffer during the current SEN budget crisis?
It would seem that from authority to authority, in different parts of the country, there is a difference in the way delegated budget and top up funding is being used.
Accountability for how local authorities spend their SEN budget varies, yet it is increasingly common to hear talk about Local Government Association’s suggesting that there is a £536 million high needs funding gap this year alone, more than double last year’s shortfall. Surely they can’t carry on like this year on year?
In recent times the local authority services in some areas barely exist for schools to use and if they do the waiting lists are lengthy. There have been some recent headlines about the government increasing the number of educational psychologists trained from 160 to 206, but they have not said how much funding will be made available to pay for the boost.
Equally, whether schools will have the funds to buy their services, particularly as Educational Psychology reports are often (but not always) a requirement when applying for an EHCP application.
Another sign that the SEN budget crisis is hitting local authorities is in the dwindling visits to schools from specialist teachers, the various children in my school that have needs such as Down Syndrome and/or visual and hearing impairments used to be visited regularly by specialist outreach services.
I have seen over the years that these visits have decreased so drastically that in some cases the children may only be visited annually. This means that the much needed specialist provision for teachers and support staff in order to fully meet the child’s needs and ensure progress is made is not there. These cuts have then forced schools to seek independent advice – at a much higher cost out of their own budgets.
According to unions the number of SEN pupils has increased by 21 per cent in just three years. It is my experience that the numbers of pupils on the SEN register in schools have not necessarily risen, however, the amount with severe and complex needs certainly has.
In previous years it may have been the case that a child would have been put on the SEN register and with the correct provision and subsequent support, in time move off it. However, more and more I see children appearing on my SEN register with needs that my school provisions are not able to provide for, sometimes due to financial constraints but also due to a lack of specialist provision and specific training. It is these individual, complex children that in my mind are the ones who really do suffer.
The children with additional SEN needs, particularly in the primary sector are to some extent unaware of the adverse effect the SEN budget crisis is having on their educational journey – until one day they find the support staff are not there, the emotional literacy support they received in small groups has stopped, the specialist equipment needed for writing is not available.
Then the barriers build firmer and firmer and the gap between themselves and their peers grows ever larger.
Even the children with no additional SEN needs will find that they are further away from receiving any school support because everyone things and everybody is so stretched. The small spellings groups or maths focus groups fall by the wayside and teachers are left having to differentiated not just 3 ways but in some cases in 9 or 10 individual ways.
This is good practice and often excellent Quality First Teaching but for some children, without specific help and intervention, the gaps just grow.
Teachers and Support Staff
In my school teachers and support staff really do try their best for the 30+ individual needs in their class. They google ideas themselves, they research, they talk in the staff room about all the things they have tried and have succeeded or failed at, they use staff meeting time for professional development yet still there are certain children who find mainstream school a struggle.
So given this, it seems crazy that these support staff are the very people who schools cannot afford to keep on. They are the one provision that schools are unable to maintain in these times of austerity.
Over the last few years, Continuing Professional Development has started to look very different, in some schools gone are the expensive trainers/speakers at INSET days. Instead, CPD from each other seems to be the cheapest and most successful way to share good practice.
The NASUWT union found that 24% of the nearly 5,000 teachers who sent in feedback said they were on the receiving end of physical attacks each week. Nearly nine in 10 teachers said they had received some sort of verbal or physical abuse from pupils in the past year.
In some schools attending training courses during term time is not something that would happen frequently. There is a wealth of useful tips for SEN out there on the world wide web – but sometimes, just sometimes – you need to listen to another human speaking passionately about a subject and be inspired by the thinking time you have out of the school building.
Sadly as reported in the news recently it was reported that one in four teachers in the UK say they experience physical violence from their pupils at least once a week, and many say poor behaviour is making them want to leave the profession, according to figures compiled by a teaching union.
The DfE in response to this has said they “will be investing £10 million to schools to support schools to share best practice in behaviour management.” We will wait to see if this has the desired impact in classrooms and whether it is enough of an investment to sustain ongoing good behaviour in schools.
It would seem that unless you are well versed in the world of SEN as a parent this world can be daunting - so many acronyms and so many strange processes. So given that this world is already very confusing throw in the added extra confusion of funding and it is enough to blow the mind of any well-meaning parent.
Once you have your head around the processes of applying for a potential EHCP then you are faced with the school explaining the waiting time for an Educational Psychologist, the waiting times for local authority services, the school having to prove they already fund your child individually with a magical £6000 (that I am still yet to find in my own school budget!).
It often boils down to the very small things that make a classroom run efficiently. There are some schools that have had to ask parents to contribute to resources like pens, pencils, glue sticks and tissues, and I do know of many teaching staff that buy this kind of classroom resource on a weekly basis.
It does make me sad to see this happen and although teachers have gone out of their way for centuries to enhance the resources in their classrooms when it comes to these essentials it does sadden me to see this becoming a necessity rather than an added extra.
About our Community Expert
Rachel has over 21 years of teaching experience in a range of primary, junior and special provision settings. Rachel has held various leadership roles including Deputy Head Teacher and is currently Head of Inclusion in an outstanding Junior School in Maidenhead. Rachel has held the title of SENDCo for over 20 years and is passionate about helping every individual reach their full potential.
Recently recognised by Ofsted as having the skills to ensure staff take ownership of the support and progress of pupils with SEND, they also praised her ability to imbue staff with a desire to do the right thing for these pupils.
Her drive and ambition continue to improve the exceptional support within her own setting and Rachel’s satisfaction comes from seeing children with SEND thrive.