By Thomas Foster
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2901

Special needs children are abandoned by the system 

Children with special educational needs and disabilities are being utterly failed by current education system  
Issue 2901
Support for children with special educational needs and disabilities is crucial (Picture: WeBalkans EU)

Support for children with special educational needs and disabilities is crucial (Picture: WeBalkans EU)

 
 The current education system is utterly failing children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send). After years of austerity, the system is in crisis with local councils failing to deliver the education children with Send require.
 
The consequence for these children is that they are excluded from a real chance of getting an education. Children who, for example, need a speech and language therapist and don’t have access to one inevitably receive a worse education than others.
 
It means many are repulsed from school and treated as second class. Budgets for Send facilities are underfunded and overstretched.
 
Families have to fight for every penny of support from the authorities for their children. If a needs assessment finds a child has special educational needs, the council is required by law to offer an education, health and care plan (EHCP) to the child. 
 
This could provide funding for a child to go to a specialist school or measures such as one-to-one support, in a mainstream school. But Tory cuts to council budgets mean that children with Send can be waiting for more than two years to be issued with an EHCP. And even when an EHCP is issued, children are often unable to access the provision identified due to the funding crisis.
 
Kate, who is a parent of a child with Send, told Socialist Worker, “Schools have a lack of funding, of training, more children are in classes, fewer support assistants and the curriculum is not designed for children with Send.
 
“There is no early intervention no matter the disability. That has a huge knock on. They go to school and the parents are less prepared, the children have had no sort of intervention or someone working with them about coming into school.”
 
Kate added, “Zero tolerance behaviour policies mean children are isolated and excluded because they can’t behave in the way they are told.
 
“The Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service budget is decimated, so you can’t get mental health support for children. Families are breaking down because there isn’t support for children.”
 
Kate argued that training is “a huge problem” as “training focuses on Ofsted and getting kids through SATs, not on emotional needs”.
 
Lucy, a parent of a child with Send and the teacher that coordinates Send support in the school where she works, said, “On paper we have inclusive laws around Send and EHCPs. But because of the crisis in education—which affects all children and everyone who works in it—you can’t fulfil many EHCPs.
 
“I’m in an ongoing battle with my head teacher. She doesn’t want me to apply for EHCPs for the children because it is too expensive for the school to implement them.”
 
Lucy added, “There aren’t enough special school places, so local authorities can end up paying private school rates for kids with Send, which can be up to £70,000 a year.
 
“If you put that money into building local special schools, they would save so much. It is short-termism. Everything is about getting money from the public purse into private pockets,” Lucy said.
 
“It’s a mess. It’s a total mismatch between the supposed provisions of the law and what reality is.”
 

Fines and upheld complaints—but no action   
Mainstream schools are desperately short of cash and two in three specialist schools are over capacity. The government’s solution is to devise programmes to halt the  “overspend” on Send.
 
When councils try to delay providing support to cut costs, parents are forced to take them to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for failing to deliver a suitable education for their child. In 2023, there were a record number of complaints regarding Send provisions upheld—95 percent of tribunal complaints.
 
A spokesperson for campaign group Send Action said that ombudsman penalties “for failing to meet legal duties are tiny compared with meeting the cost of provision and this is unfortunately resulting in abuse of the current system by some local authorities”.
 
Children with Send who don’t have the correct support are left without a school placement, with an increasing number being forced to be home schooled for over a year. So families are stuck with long waiting times for assessments, delays with issuing EHCPs and then EHCPs not fulfilled.
 
While funding is spent on expensive private sector placements, there is a serious shortage of educational psychologists to support and diagnose students with Send. The assessments they provide are used by councils when drawing up EHCPs. And Tory cuts are undermining inclusivity in mainstream schools.
 
An online poll of 8,000 members of the NEU education union two weeks ago showed one in three teachers say they have no behaviour support team for students with Send. And one in four have no educational psychologist or speech and language therapist to help them.
 
Councils should have the capacity to deliver appropriate provision for children with Send, ending the reliance on private provision. The Tories’ and Labour’s politics of austerity will do nothing towards this.
 
Yet the Tories try to deflect blame and criticise parents. But this is a crisis of the Tories’—and Labour councils’—making.
 
  • Parents were horrified recently after a school photography company offered to remove children who are in wheelchairs and others with additional needs from class photos. Schoolchildren at the rural Aboyne Primary School, just west of Aberdeen, were taken together. But the firm involved then gave an option to order the snaps without three children with disabilities or additional needs.

Parents are left to cope
Socialist Worker research into the complaints to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found that families are being left in huge distress. In one case, a child with Send was in a mainstream school but stopped attending due to mental health difficulties and bullying incidents. 
 
The child was then educated at home until an educational psychologist provided a report recommending to put the child in a specialist school. The council refused, citing inadequate resources. This led to the child missing nearly 18 months of suitable education.
 
The tribunal found the council failed to provide legally required alternative provisions and instructed the council to pay £4,500 to the parents. In another case where a child had lost a year of education, the parent had not been able to work for that year, leading to financial hardship.
 
In the last financial year, there have been around 1,500 complaints to the ombudsman. The cases largely result in payouts of a couple of thousand pounds. But no money can make up for the lack of suitable education during a crucial time of a child’s development.
 
  • Inspectors recently found “widespread and systemic failings” in services for children with special needs in North Northamptonshire.

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