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Pupils with special educational needs suffering amid funding crisis, say school leaders

Just 1% of school leaders believe that the funding they receive for pupils with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) is sufficient to meet children’s needs, with a shocking 99% saying that it is insufficient.

The survey, published as school leaders’ union NAHT holds its annual conference in Newport, found the lack of funding is harming provision for children with additional needs.

School leaders say it is making it harder for both mainstream and special schools to provide the support that pupils need: from teaching assistants, and speech and language therapy, to mental health support and staff training.

Most say they are being forced to reduce the number of teaching assistants or hours worked by teaching assistants, even though the role is crucial in offering individual support to children with SEND. Nearly four-fifths (78%) said they had needed to do so in the last three years due to funding pressures, while a further 84% anticipated they would be forced to do so in the next three years.

Some leaders shared fears that funding shortages mean they are unable to keep children and staff safe, leaving them feeling they are letting families down. Some said they were leaving or considering leaving the profession as a result.

School leaders also talked about the additional pressures caused by schools having to try to fill the gaps left by under-resourced services, including health and social care services.

For example, more than four-fifths (85%) said that they were having to subsidise healthcare provision from their own budgets. 

Special school leaders are particularly angry that the core £10,000 they receive on a per pupil basis has been frozen since 2013 despite spiralling inflation. 

Paul Whiteman, NAHT’s general secretary, said: “School leaders are passionate about offering the best possible education and support to all pupils, but they are being left in an impossible position.  

“Schools face a perfect storm of growing demand to support more pupils with special educational needs at the same time as costs have increased massively and are still rising.

“The blame lies squarely with the government, which has failed to provide anything like enough funding to enable schools, local authorities and wider services to meet this demand.

“This is a full-blown crisis and bad news for children, families, schools and local authorities. Ahead of the general election, it is incumbent upon all political parties to pledge the system-wide investment needed to tackle this crisis head on.” 

Ian Kendal, executive head teacher at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Multi Academy Trust in Essex, added: “The funding we receive for pupils with SEND is simply not enough, and it’s astonishing that the per pupil SEND funding has not increased for more than a decade. This puts huge pressure on our dwindling school budgets.

“There just isn’t capacity within special schools in our area, meaning we are supporting even more pupils with complex needs within our mainstream settings. We believe in inclusion and are currently doing our best with the limited funds, but, put simply, it is not good enough for the children with the most complex needs - they deserve so much more than we can give them. 

“It should never have come to this, and we need the government to urgently put more funding into the system to ensure all children’s needs are met, especially the most vulnerable.”

Notes to Editors   

  • 1,048 members in England responded to NAHT’s funding survey, which ran from 10-23 April.
  • Nearly 1.6m children were receiving SEND support in schools in England in 2022/23. This includes pupils with Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and those pupils with SEND who do not have EHCPs
  • Where schools are unable to provide all the support a child needs their parents have a right to ask for an assessment with a view to securing an EHCP. This is a legal personalised document outlining the education, health and social care needs of children and young people aged 0 25 years old with special educational needs or disabilities, as well as the support they need, and the outcomes they would like to achieve. The local authority has a legal duty to fund the support deemed necessary in the plan.  25% of pupils receiving support with SEND in 2022/23 had an EHCP in place.
  • 60% of local authorities are currently subject to government debt reduction programmes for high needs spending 




First published 04 May 2024