The National Education Union (NEU) have described levels of special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision as ‘alarming’ and ‘inadequate’ and said schools are at ‘breaking point’ after conducting a survey of their members. The NEU conducted a ‘snapshot’ survey of its members in primary and secondary schools from 10-11 January 2019, and received 1026 responses.

When asked to describe the situation at their school, and whether there are enough appropriately trained staff to support SEND pupils effectively, 81 per cent of respondents said there were ‘less than enough’ staff. NEU members were also asked if there had been a change in the number of learning support assistants (LSAs) or Teaching Assistants (TAs) at their school since 2017. 73 per cent said that there were now fewer posts, with 94 per cent believing that these cuts had had a negative impact on the support their school was able to give SEND pupils. Quotes from respondents detailing the situation in their school included ‘Half of the teaching assistants were made redundant. Only seven TAs for nearly 800 kids.’ and ‘Number of SEND support staff is a quarter of what it was ten years ago’.

Other findings from the survey included that 95 per cent of primary respondents and 75 per cent of those from secondary schools felt that there were ‘excessive’ waiting times for access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), speech and language or behaviour support. Meanwhile 38 per cent of primary school respondents reported that a school or parent must personally fund pupil assessments as the local authority is unable to. A quarter of secondary respondents said the same. More than four-fifths (82 per cent) of respondents felt that SENCOs did not have enough time to support classroom teachers.

The NEU also asked members for their views on how support and outcomes for pupils with SEND might be improved within current funding levels. Responses including ‘Not within current funding levels. It’s impossible.’ and ‘Less paperwork? But really, they can’t. Funding must be increased for improvement.’ were typical. Another respondent said ‘We have children on part-time timetables as adequate support cannot be given. We have staff off on stress as adequate support cannot be given. Both of these could be alleviated by better funding.’

Commenting on the survey results, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU said ‘These are shocking reports from the frontline of teaching. The infrastructure to support SEND pupils is wearing away. Schools do everything they can, but the barriers and waiting lists created by this Government’s actions, are having terrible effects on pupils who need help now. It is alarming that excessive waiting times are more pronounced in primary schools, where early intervention is so vital, and that so many children are on part-time timetables’. She added that it ‘beggars belief’ that the Department for Education (DfE) ‘simply digs its heels over funding’.

A DfE spokesperson said: ‘Our ambition for children with special educational needs is that they succeed in education, find employment and lead a happy life. To support this, the national high needs budget is £6bn this year and in December 2018, we announced an additional £250m in funding for high needs over this and next year which will go some way to helping local authorities manage their cost pressures.’

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