Education & Family

Teachers' union warns on funding gaps for special needs

Disabled child and friends Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The aim of reforms to special needs provision in England was to give children and their families a greater say in the support they received

Special needs provision in England has been "drastically damaged" by cuts to support services, said Mary Bousted leader of the ATL teachers' union.

"We fear many schools and colleges are unable to meet their legal obligations for disabled pupils," she said.

The union's annual conference has heard claims some schools used special needs reforms as a "smokescreen" to cut jobs.

The government introduced the changes to help parents "battling against a complex and fragmented system".

When the changes were launched in September 2014, the government described them as the biggest education reforms in a generation, but some charities warned they were implemented too quickly.

'More support'

The aim of the new system was to give children and young people with special educational needs, and their parents, a greater say in the support they receive.

Ministers launching the reforms promised a "simpler and more joined up system" with a single category of special needs.

But many working in schools feared that the shake-up would lead to fewer children with special needs being supported at a time when school budgets were already under pressure.

Delegates at the conference in Liverpool heard claims that there was a lack of support for rising demand for services.

Dr Bousted said the special needs provision was "woefully inadequate in many schools and colleges, following an increase in the amount of support needed to provide for physically disabled pupils".

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Many staff surveyed by the union say they would like more training in how to identify and support children with special needs

She said changes to special needs funding, together with recent reforms meant teachers were "now expected to meet a far wider range of special educational and disability needs, despite a lack of training, and huge cuts to external support services".

A survey of more than 500 ATL members, published during the conference, found some 65% felt their school or college has had to provide more support for physically disabled students over the past two years.

However, the union says there have been a large number of redundancies among special needs teaching and support staff roles, with schools and colleges losing vital expertise and reductions in the support they are able to provide.

One special educational needs coordinator in a Cheshire sixth form college highlighted cases of pupils who once got full time support but who now no longer get "any support at all".

Some of the staff surveyed said there was no extra training to help them deal with pupils' disabilities.

In particular, almost half (48%) said more training should be provided to help staff identify and support pupils with physical conditions.

Some 14% said training was only provided if specifically requested, and 12% said no training was given at all.

'Additional responsibilities'

"Members are also worried the additional and unsupported responsibilities placed on education staff will prevent them from doing their job to the best of their abilities.

"We fear many schools and colleges are unable to meet their legal obligations for disabled pupils under the Equality Act 2010.

"The Act legislates for equal, and in some cases additional adjustments, to enable these pupils to flourish and achieve their potential. It's morally right and what's more, it is the law."

The conference resolved to "closely monitor the situation and highlight the diminution in provision".

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