Teachers warn of funding cuts for special needs

Several teachers’ unions had their annual conferences last week. You may have seen the headlines about teachers backing strike action against funding cuts in education. 

This comes at a time when local authorities are bedding in the new changes to the special educational needs (SEN) regime which calls for a more holistic approach to incorporate support from health, social care and education and which can potentially provide support up to 25 years instead of 19 years under the old SEN regime. This means that the local authority may have to fund additional support for up to six more years for each young person.

Although the definition of SEN remained unchanged and the government has stressed that children who would have qualified for a Statement of SEN under the old regime should get an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), we have parents telling us that they feel the transition to an EHCP is being used to make savings to local authority budgets by removing or reducing support. This has been backed up by teachers’ unions.

Mary Bousted, leader of the ATL teacher’s union said that funding for SEN provision in England has been, “drastically damaged…we fear many schools and colleges are unable to meet their legal obligations for disabled pupils”. The ATL annual conference heard of some schools using the recent reforms as a ‘smokescreen’ to cut staffing levels. Ms Bousted said changes to SEN funding, together with recent reforms has meant that teachers are “now expected to meet a far wider range of SEN and disability needs, despite a lack of training, and huge cuts to external support services”.

Despite having to provide more support, the union said that there have been a large number of redundancies among SEN teaching and support staff.

We are now two terms into the changes brought about by the Children and Families Act 2014. Local authorities have until 1 April 2018 to transition all Statements to EHCPs. There is already evidence of some local authorities struggling with the additional workload with some local authorities trying to do too much too soon. Ahead of the general election, the main parties have been promising to either protect England’s education budget against further cuts or increase spending. Regardless of promises made by the main parties, the new SEN regime, by its very nature, requires more funding. Whether the funding promises will be enough to do what the Children and Families Act set out to do remains to be seen.

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