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(UK) England: Govt is "failing" special needs students; system 'more adversarial than ever'

June 3, 2020, KCW Today: “Just enough” is not enough: why we’re failing SEN students in the UK
Children are among the most vulnerable in society, and when a child has special educational needs (SEN), it’s all the more important that their needs are properly met in school and beyond. Yet, as BBK has revealed, the government is continuing to fail SEN students across England. Through collating publicly available government data, and with commentary from literacy and inclusion expert Jules ‘`Daulby, the specialist law firm were able to paint a stark picture of the SEN landscape in England. London tops rankings for SEN education Bolt Burdon Kemp looked at ten factors relating to SEN education for each of the nine regions of England, including the percentage of good or outstanding schools in the region, the number of educational psychologists, the high needs funding amount given to the region and the number of places available for children with high needs…. Its abundance of resources and facilities means London tops many of the metrics, and yet it’s the South East that’s home to the greatest number of SEN students. In fact, London gets a whopping £22.9 million more in high needs funding than the South East. Changes in the system aren’t necessarily positive • Number of SEN pupils has risen for third consecutive year • Changes in SEN identification may mean some pupils are left behind The proportion of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities has risen for a third consecutive year. In January 2019, pupils with SEN represented 14.9% of the overall student body, while the number was 14.6% in 2018 and 14.4% in 2017. However, as Daulby points out, “it’s hard to know if there are more children with SEN now, or whether the system is simply identifying needs better. “To complicate matters,” she adds, “there are likely to be many children who used to be identified with SEN who aren’t now. SEN identification has gone from a 5-stage risk classification to 3 stages and now to two: students who need SEN support and students who need an Educational, Health and Care plan (EHC plan).” As classifications change, children who previously had SEN support may find themselves being left by the wayside. How many children are currently unidentified within the overall SEN numbers due to these changes?... The government is perversely penalising SEN-friendly schools According to government reports, London and the North West of England have the highest school expenditures, although the South East is home to more specialist schools and more students with SEN… “One of the problems the government must tackle,” says Daulby, “is the SEN notional budget (SNB). This expects schools to spend a certain amount of their own budget (currently £6000) for each child with SEN. Of course, this means that inclusive schools who welcome children with SEN pay a hefty price for inclusion. While children with an EHC plan are privy to funding they can bring with them, the SNB still means schools are being unfairly punished for their efforts to be inclusive.” For children with SEN who live in areas that have less budget to work with, the SNB could well be the only factor that prevents them from being accepted into their school of choice. Girls may be missing out on crucial SEN support • More boys get SEN support than girls • Girls may be going under the radar when identifying SEN needs It’s also interesting to explore the gender differences in SEN support. More boys are assessed and labelled with SEN than girls. While this could simply mean that boys are more likely to have special educational needs, there could be more at play. “It’s possible that girls are going under the radar,” says Daulby, “with their behaviour being misread and the signs of SEN being missed, simply because they don’t behave in the same way as boys do. “Girls generally don’t have the behavioural issues associated with SEN, and their traits may not be as easily identified as it is with boys. For example, boys may line up trains – an early signifier that they may have autism – while girls may have an eating disorder, which doesn’t easily translate as autism spectrum disorder,” says Daulby. Parents and experts are being ignored in SEN frameworks • Government needs to listen to parents and students more • OFSTED failed to consult SEN organisations when creating framework • Teacher training in SEN needs to be a priority As well as potentially missing the nuances between genders, SEN assessments and frameworks may be missing a crucial component: the voices and opinions of students with SEN and their parents. “The government is not listening enough to parents or students,” says Daulby, adding that “they don’t consult enough with SEN charities and organisations. OFSTED created a new SEN framework to scrutinise schools without consulting any SEN organisations.” A good first step might be to increase the number of experts in the room, namely by training all teachers in how to include SEN pupils in the classroom. “The lack of support and training given to teachers is problematic,” says Daulby. “During teacher training, there needs to be more mandatory placements in both special schools and pupil referral units to allow teachers a better understanding of how to include children in mainstream classrooms.” A stark future for SEN education? So, what does the future hold for SEN education? In October 2019, a Commons report damning the 2014 SEN reforms highlighted several issues, including lack of accountability from the Government (such as a failure to monitor local authorities) and detailing negative experiences by families. “From this report, it’s clear that the system has become more adversarial than ever,” says Daulby. ...


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