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Mar 25, 2024, Guardian: Special educational needs in English schools in ‘crisis’, minister admits

Gillian Keegan says parents having to ‘fight to get right support’ as unions say provision falls short of what is needed

Special educational needs provision in England is in the grip of a “crisis”, the education secretary has said, as school unions questioned whether a funding boost promised for the sector by the government was actually new money and said it fell a long way short of what was needed.

Days after figures showed about two in three special schools were at or over capacity in the last academic year, Gillian Keegan also acknowledged parents were having to “fight to get the right support” for children with special educational needs.

Keegan used a round of broadcast interviews on Tuesday to promote plans to deliver 60,000 more places to meet the needs of pupils and their families.

Asked whether she agreed there was a “huge crisis”, she told BBC Breakfast: “We have definitely acknowledged it. We have special educational needs and alternative provision improvement plans, so you don’t put that in place unless you acknowledge that you definitely need to improve it.

“There’s been a massive increase in special educational needs, we know how to diagnose more, we care more, we know more about how to overcome special educational needs, so that’s definitely something that has changed over the last 10 years. But we have been really trying to make sure that we do the right thing.”
Keegan was speaking as the Department for Education said new Send (special educational needs and disabilities) and AP (alternative provision) funding were being delivered to meet children’s needs, and that councils would get “a record £850m [$1B] cash boost”.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the “blizzard of figures looks very much like previously announced spending commitments”.

“While investment in education is always welcome, the latest figures are “a very long way short of the level of funding that is needed”.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It seems everyone, even the government, now accepts we are in the middle of a full-blown crisis when it comes to Send.

“However, this hasn’t just come out of nowhere – we have been warning about this for years and it is immensely frustrating just how little progress the government has made on actually tackling the issue.”

Figures published earlier this month showed there were approximately 4,000 more pupils on roll in special schools than the reported capacity.

The Guardian reported last month that hundreds of children with special educational needs have been waiting for a year or longer to access support as local authorities across England buckle under the strain.

Children in some local authorities had been waiting for more than two years to be issued with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) that details the support they require, freedom of information requests revealed.


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