How will our government support vulnerable pupils post-COVID19?
In light of the COVID-19, our teaching profession faces its greatest challenge of all: How to reduce the disadvantage gap in our young people…
One of the greatest challenges all schools face is meeting the needs of every individual child, particularly supporting students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). It’s any school’s greatest responsibility and also one of the most difficult. Throughout my career, I have worked with many vulnerable children as I’m sure you have too, with many heartbreaking stories of triumph and tribulation. But, how will we provide more stories of success in the months and years ahead?
How can our school system support them all?
There are over 10 million children currently in our 32,000 UK schools. Of these schools, roughly 1,250 are special schools with an estimated 354,000 children and young people with education, health and care plans (in England) as of January 2019 (Department for Education, 2019d; see page 140). All of these young people require additional support and the number of difficulties, disabilities and conditions that come under the SEND banner are probably broader than most realise. Defined as having ‘a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age’ or have ‘a disability which prevents or hinders [them] from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools’ (DfE, 2014).
More important than ever!
Supporting students with SEND has always been a priority for teachers and schools, but it’s now more important than ever for all teachers and school leaders. With assessments for SEND at an all-time high and external agencies stretched to breaking point, teachers, schools and local councils are struggling to meet demand due to a lack of training, and reduced funding and resources – and this was the picture before COVID-19. According to the Department for Education (2019d), the number of children and young people with EHCPs (or their pre-2014 equivalents, known as ‘statements’) in England increased each year between 2010 and 2019. In 2019, this equated to roughly 354,000 EHCPs, compared with approximately 225,000 ‘statements’ in 2010. That’s a huge increase. Of course, it’s unlikely that the number of learning difficulties, conditions and physical disabilities has actually increased; rather, it is assessments that have become more common, due in part to greater understanding, awareness and openness about SEND.
What is the long-term solution?
As I highlighted in Just Great Teaching, ‘Quality-first teaching’ in the classroom is viewed as the answer, but there is sparse evidence to show how these strategies are designed to support the needs of students with SEND. Obviously, not all students with SEND will have an EHCP and schools still have a responsibility to provide SEN support for these students. All in all, whether a student has an EHCP or not, there is a huge amount of work to be done to ensure students are fully supported and able to achieve in school.
Additional teacher training is an obvious solution, but what might this look like in practice when schools fully re-open is another matter?
In the budget March 2020, literally days before the UK went into lockdown, the Department for Education in England announced that they would give schools £4.5bn in funding – after years of denying there was a funding shortage which is still £0.1bn lower than 2019. In 2018, a mere £350M was announced for SEND funding. I know many schools, unions and council leaders said that this funding wasn’t enough. I suspect post-virus, any injection of cash won’t solve the crisis that schools and local councils face in general, nevermind in relation to anything SEND funding or post-COVID19. The Local Government Association, argue that there is a £536 million high-needs funding gap in 2019 alone, plus councils are likely to have lost 60 per cent of their funding between 2010 and 2019 (Staufenberg, 2018). Sixty per cent!
So, unless something dramatic happens and the government pulls any cash out if its deep-burrowed pockets, it doesn’t look like the disadvantaged gap is a problem that’s going to go away any time soon.
Our schools cannot magically generate extra funding. However, once we do return to normality, every parent and teacher reading this should be shouting from the rooftops if we are to transform the landscape for our most vulnerable.
This is an updated extract from my new book, Just Great Teaching