Better access to funding and training are vital parts of the bid to improve the schooling of children with special educational needs
Recent figures show an increase in the number of children in the UK with special educational needs. The proportion has grown steadily over the past four years from 14.9% in 2005 to 17.8% in 2009, according to the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The increase is most marked in secondary schools where the proportion of children registered as SEN has increased to 19% from 17.8% last year. So will recent pledges from the government about catch-up programmes for children who are falling behind ever reach the most vulnerable pupils in our schools?
Part of the increase may be due to greater clarity in classifying SEN within schools and the move away from the lengthy and frustrating business of applying for statements of SEN through the local authority. The move to more delegated funding via Enhanced School Action Plus (ESAP) funding means schools can now apply for short-term funds and this improved access to funding may have encouraged schools to smarten up their monitoring and evaluation of special needs eligibility.
But there are, I feel, still two main issues: the first is a lack of adequate training in SEN for all those working with children, including those who have responsibility for looked-after children. Second, is a less than robust approach to tackling the additional difficulties that such children face when high levels of transience result in them moving between areas, resulting in them frequently being passed on to different social workers and teachers. Without a massive overhaul in these systems it is likely that children with SEN, and especially those who are in care, will continue to significantly under-achieve.
The government has made some big promises in the area of special needs education in recent months. The green paper, Care Matters, made a number of pledges about the provision for looked-after children that, if implemented, would go a long way to addressing these challenges. My concern is that without adequate funding this will become yet another exercise in wishful thinking; we know what the problems are but don’t have the resources to make sure that they are addressed.
The second major pledge was contained in a white paper Your Child, Your Schools, Our Future: Building a 21st Century Schools System. This made a commitment to parents that one-to-one support would be available for any child who falls behind at school. It will be up to schools to decide how that particular lottery should be decided and it is here that my concern lies.
The present process of applying for ESAP funding is heavy on administration and very time-consuming. A lot of detailed evidence has to be submitted and it is often the skill of the special needs co-ordinator making the application in manipulating data, rather than the need of the child, which determines the success of the application.
I would like to see a real commitment to enhancing the expertise of those who work with our SEN children in terms of early identification and specific teaching strategies, as this is the only way that we will begin to have a significant impact on their progress in school.
The role of teaching assistants should be enhanced, with improved access to training; likewise for all special needs co-ordinator’s. Without this expertise in schools I am afraid that these children will continue to quietly but persistently fail within our education system.
Dawn Forshaw is the head teacher at Wellfield Church Primary School, Burnley, Lancashire
This article is published in the 30 July 2009 edition of Community Care magazine under the headline We must try harder to meet the needs of children with SEN