It’s fitting that on ‘World Autism Awareness Day’ I’ve found time to write a brief blog post about the state of Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) funding.
During my long journey from Teaching Assistant to Maths Teacher, I’ve written numerous essays dissecting and analysing the state of education in the UK. I’ve been rather scathing of The Coalition Government right up to the current DUP-Conservative coalition.
Funding for SEND pupils has steadily increased since the early nineties, above inflation might I add. Moreover, there has been a tangible increase in SEND specialists working in our schools, thanks, in part, to quality training courses and an increased awareness of the impact SEND can have on student attainment. So, surely we are heading in the right direction? As ever, in real terms, it’s not that simple.
Although the funding is there for students identified as having a learning barrier, accessing the available funding is an exercise of jumping through buereucratic hoops. Unless students have a Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP), funding is so negligible, it might as well not exist.
The SEND code of practice, an official Government produced document, defines SEN as ‘a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age’. This description would encompass practically all bottom set maths students I’ve either supported the learning of as a teaching assistant, or been the prime learning facilitator of as a maths teacher. Yet, I’ve only worked in one school in which the vast majority of lower set students were receiving some extra support.
Perhaps the reason for the lack of support is the endless red tape that needs to be ploughed through to receive tangible funding. Yes, the support is there, but unless you’ve a specific learning barrier, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia or autism, you can’t access it.
Some of you may be wondering what on God’s green Earth ‘dyscalculia’ is. Well, it’s the mathematical equivalent of the ironically hard to spell dyslexia. My maths teacher bias may well be fully on show, but support for the mathematically weaker pupils is terrible. Clearly, literacy is a vitally important skill and support for dyslexics should be paramount. Yet, numeracy is an equally important skill, one that is often maligned because of its ‘difficulty’. I would bet a large chunk of money that, in a typical school, support for literacy based subjects is excellent, whereas other subjects have to rely on quality first teaching.
I digress a little, but the point still stands. SEND pupils are in danger of being left behind. Cuts to the education budget will affect kids on both extremes of the academic spectrum. The academically gifted will find opportunities to extend their learning limited by budget restraints and the SEND pupils will have their statutory required support cut. The amount of teaching assistants is on the decrease already – though they often get a bad rap, a great teaching assistant can really develop a child’s learning both in and out of the classroom. They’re a truly outstanding resource if quality people are given the role.
I don’t have all the answers, but a discussion is definitely needed to ensure we don’t leave our most vulnerable students behind.
As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts – whether you’re a teacher or not!