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(UK) OP ED: We need to provide for "rising numbers of disabled children"

Jan 6, 2023,The Star: Opinion: Rising numbers of disabled children are not being adequately placed
Government data for 2022 on Special Educational Needs shows nearly 1.5 million pupils in England have special educational needs.
This was an increase of 77,000 from 2021. Both the number of pupils with an Education, Health Care plan (EHCP) and the number of pupils with SEN support have increased: The percentage of pupils with an education, health and care plan increased to 4.0%.
The percentage of pupils with SEN but no EHC plan (SEN support) increased to 12.6%. The most common type of need for those with an EHCP is ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ and for those with SEN support, is speech, language and communication needs. This is reflected also here in Sheffield .

Despite the data showing that in January 2022, there were 377 schools in England with SEN units (up from 352 schools in 2021) and 1,125 schools with a resourced provision (up from 1,066 schools in 2021), these resources remain insufficient to meet the increased and increasing numbers and SEN provision requirements. Sheffield and other areas remain shockingly under resourced with rising SEN numbers and need outstripping what is available . With scarcity of resources, comes challenges. Daily, I am being obliged to champion and advocate to secure tor Disabled children, young people and young adults here in this City and across the U.K. their rights and entitlements, as evermore increasing numbers of Disabled children and young people, ( the vast majority of whom are autistic) are not being afforded their rights and entitlements .

Rising numbers of Disabled children and young people are being inadequately placed or contained in provisions that are not only unsuited to them and their SEN provision requirements. Every day I deal with children and young people in a terrible state - sizeable numbers are school refusing , self -harming, others wanting to die by suicide and some even acting on these desires to die by suicide .

Local Authorities, health providers and schools tasked with caring for and meeting the needs of Disabled children are experiencing challenges with resources, which results in them trying to spread out resources to ever increasing numbers of Disabled children and young people in a resource deployment lottery. I am increasingly required to battle to have Disabled children’s and young people’s impairments/conditions and SEN provision requirements recognised and assessed due to there being an evident refusal to give due regard to these children’s and young people’s SEN needs and presentations and even denying the reality of Disabled children’s needs and conditions. Concerning numbers of LA’s and schools are acting in unsavoury ways.

This can include schools, wrongly taking the line of sitting out supporting children to obtain an EHCP and instead deploying an Emperor’s new clothes game, denying or down playing the realities of a child’s SEN because the alternative is, that hey as a school, have to find extra funding for the child out of their school budgets once a child is allocated an EHCP.

Even when we can secure agreement for assessment for children and young people, I am finding that the waiting lists in Sheffield and other areas can be up to and beyond two years long.

Desperate parents/carers of Disabled children reaching out for help, in recognition of their children’s presenting SEN, they are at times, wrongfully experiencing their parenting coming under scrutiny, and them being blamed for their child’s SEN presentations, as are some professionals in nurseries and schools too.

Sometimes a parent/carer is put on a merry-go-round of one suggested intervention after another, whilst their child sits on extended waiting lists or alternatively has been placed in educational provisions, that are wholly unsuitable for their child and their child’s conditions and SEN provision requirements.

Those holding the public purse strings, often act to conserve resources and alongside this, authorities’ attitudes and behaviours change. LA’s, I have found, are becoming ever more combatant in their pursuit of conserving or stretching resources. Some even deploying underhand tactics to stop children getting an EHCP and the right SEN provision they need and deserve. Parents/carers subjected to revisionism and gaslighting, seeing their children suffering and losing out on their rights and entitlements are compelled to take their own LA’s to court. Across the nation 98% of these cases are found in favour of the Disabled children, which is telling in itself.

Holding purview and responsibility for all of this, and the increasing harms accruing, is central Government, whom despite knowing of the SEN crisis in every town and city in England, including here in Sheffield, churn out rhetoric from their ivory tower. Claiming increased spending to SEN, whilst holding back the fact, that what they have allocated, remains wholly inadequate to meet the increasing numbers of Disabled children being identified and requiring support.

As we start 2023, attitudinal changes need to happen in public authorities across the nation with public servants recognising that parents/carers and advocates identifying Disabled children’s and young people’s needs and requesting that these needs be properly recognised and met, are not the enemy to fight in pursuance of resource conservation. LA’s should not be battling their own vulnerable young citizens in court rooms to stop them securing the SEN resources these young citizens and their families need, deserve and are entitled to.

No LA, or other public authority should be acting in ways described above, nor should they be aiding and abetting central Government, as localised resource gatekeepers, because as long as they keep this tact up and fail to challenge central Government head on, they are allowing central Government to get away with under resourcing SEN and are letting some of our most vulnerable Disabled children, young people and families down. Combined concerted pressure needs to be applied to central Government, to compel them to step up and properly fund SEN in Sheffield and across England.

One Disabled child suffering in our city is one too many and this city should not be part of this problem.


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