Teachers report insufficient special educational needs and disability support

Shefali Saxena Wednesday 10th April 2024 04:59 EDT

A recent poll conducted by the National Education Union (NEU) revealed alarming gaps in support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in schools. The survey, which garnered responses from 8,000 NEU members, found that one in three teachers reported having no behaviour support team for SEND pupils, while one in four lacked access to educational psychologists or speech and language therapists.

The overwhelming sentiment among teachers was that resources were inadequate to meet the growing demand for support. Seven in eight teachers expressed concerns about insufficient resources, with three-quarters calling for more learning support assistants in classrooms.

Furthermore, the poll highlighted deficiencies in access to counselling and occupational health specialists for SEND pupils, with 41% of respondents indicating a lack of such support. Additionally, more than half of the teachers (56%) expressed doubts about the effectiveness of referrals for SEND assessments or specialist support, raising concerns about whether pupils would receive the assistance they require.

Some respondents shared distressing accounts of prolonged waits for support services, resulting in delayed interventions for pupils. One teacher reported a six-year waiting period for support, leading to inadequate assistance for students. Another lamented that waiting lists meant some children would never receive the help they need, a situation exacerbated by limited funding and resources.

The inadequacy of education, health, and care plans (EHCP), legal documents outlining a child's needs and required support, were also highlighted. Teachers expressed scepticism about the efficacy of EHCP applications, with some questioning the worthiness of applying due to perceived rejections or negligible outcomes.

NEU General Secretary Daniel Kebede condemned the government's failure to address the SEND funding crisis, labelling it as "shameful." He emphasised the detrimental impact on schools striving to support pupils amid stretched resources. Kebede urged significant funding commitments from the government to ensure adequate SEND provision and safeguard children's educational journeys.

The NEU plans to address the SEND funding crisis at its annual conference in Bournemouth, where delegates will discuss the urgent need for increased government funding. The motion emphasises that children and families are being let down by a system ill-equipped to address their needs, calling for urgent action to prevent further harm to future generations.

In response, the Department for Education underscored its commitment to supporting children with complex needs, citing significant funding increases over the past five years. They highlighted ongoing efforts to reform the SEND system, including training additional educational psychologists and increasing the number of teaching assistants. However, the NEU's findings underscore the persistent challenges facing schools and the urgent need for comprehensive government intervention to address the SEND funding crisis effectively.

Professor Dinesh Bhugra told us, “It is well known that nearly one-third of psychiatric illnesses in adulthood start below the age of 15. Furthermore, children’s brain development and functioning are related to how they form attachment patterns with important people in their childhood. Hence school mental health is incredibly important in the promotion of mental health as well as the prevention of mental illnesses. With changes in cultures and societies, as a society, we have a moral duty to ensure that children get the best start and that they develop resilience to mental illnesses. Educational psychologists play a pivotal role in supporting students at all levels and teachers must be supported in educating children and young people with special educational needs but for the student body as a whole.”

Psychologist and Asian Voice Health columnist Mamta Saha said, “Having support for the student is pivotal to their learning. For a teacher to have to manage a class of mixed-ability children and tend to a child with special needs is placing unnecessary undue pressure which will inevitably impact the wider cohort.”

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