SEND pupils losing out on school places

Recent press attention surrounding the lack of appropriate provision in schools for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) pupils has highlighted a complex issue which seems to lack a solution for inclusivity for many children.

An article by the BBC highlights the pressing matter of a cash shortfall, contrary to the government’s declaration that the money for schools and special needs had been protected. This hasn’t help many families of SEND children, with the BBC report stating that ‘4,050 special needs pupils’ in England alone, did not have a school place.

In a report by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers section of the NEU, half of respondents said their school had cut support for SEND children this year, with 54% of primary school staff experiencing cuts and 49% in secondary schools. The Education Executive reported that 50% of staff believed SEND funding had been cut compared to 40% last year meaning that this is an ongoing topic.

While funding is clearly a contributing factor to the decline in provision for SEND students, there are also other issues to consider. As understanding surrounding conditions such as autism increase, more and more SEND students are able to be identified. This means that places in schools that offer sufficient provision are filling up quickly but the number of actual spaces are not increasing at a rate that can meet the demand.

NCFE spoke to a parent from the North East about his experiences with his son, Alfie*, who has complex needs.

“Alfie struggles with sensory issues, memory recall, reading and writing, and a host of other problems that don’t align to a specific diagnosis but have made attending mainstream school more difficult as he gets older. We’re currently struggling with the decision of whether to explore a special unit within another school, or for him to remain where he is. Alfie has a circle of friends and his school is near to our house. Uprooting him would create distress to a boy who already struggles with his own confusion about how his mind and body work. To uproot him would be heart breaking.

Currently, Alfie has access to a teaching assistant who works with him in the mornings, however, in the afternoon, when he’s tired, his attention is suffering and he finds school particularly difficult, he doesn’t have any support. As a Pupil Premium pupil, we know that Alfie is eligible for extra for his education and support, however, there isn’t enough transparency about where this is allocated. Additionally, without a specific diagnosis, it’s also harder to “unlock” the correct support and expertise that might be available.

Communication with the school has been difficult at times and your experience of having an SEND child can be heavily correlated towards your Special Education Need Coordinator (SENCO). We’ve personally had communication barriers and believe that this has had an impact as far as setting Alfie’s development back up to 18 months. This is another issue with remaining at his current school: he’s competing with 30 other children, who are all trying to access the best education available to them. As parents, we just want Alfie to have the same, but we understand this would require considerable support.

Without the adequate support he needs, we just don’t know if it would be fair to Alfie’s education and future prospects for him to remain in his current school. We worry about him growing up as these issues can cause isolation and bullying and make his formative teenage years even more difficult.”

Pupils who aren’t able to access this extra support early in their education face further problems in secondary school. Their struggles and differences can make them a target for isolation and bullying. If their special education needs haven’t been recognised or addressed by secondary school age, this may be incorrectly interpreted as a pupil who is disengaged or disruptive and they may appear to lack concentrated, be frustrated or have poor attendance.

The Independent reported that 24% of SEND pupils did not attend school at all. The benefits of pupils remaining in some form of mainstream education are hinged on each individual case, with compelling arguments for inclusion often coming from anecdotal evidence. Contributing factors such as peer to peer learning, lifestyle implications such as locality of school to the family home, keeping siblings together, can be crucial to development on an individual basis.  Without mainstream education, it’s likely that these pupils will not only lack the necessary qualifications to help them in the workplace, putting them at a disadvantage to typically developed children, but also miss out on important experiences such as socialising with a diverse group of a similar age.