In a long-awaited review of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), the government said it will overhaul the system so children receive better help at school from an earlier stage, and includes plans to digitise paperwork.
But school leaders said the pandemic has caused a “staggering” increase in the number of children needing help, and more money is needed to tackle long waiting lists for services such as speech and language therapy and mental health.
Mother of three Sarah Hesz said her daughter, who has special educational needs, this week lost her one-to-one teaching assistant to a job in Asda.
She told a local paper: “My daughter’s amazing teaching assistant is leaving because the school can’t afford her, even though we have an EHCP (education health and care plan) in place.
Annamarie Hassall, CEO of the National Association for Special Educational Needs, said vital therapeutic services are being “rationed” because of lack of funding.
She added that the already fragile system has been “pushed further to the brink by a long and brutal pandemic that has resulted in a staggering impact on the mental health of children and young people, increased absences from school and a stretched workforce.”
Patrick Roach, General Secretary of teachers’ union NASUWT, said the government’s ambitions “need to be matched by substantial and sustained additional investment.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said: “The challenge here is not one of culture, but of a persistent lack of funding from central government.”
In the new plans, the government said new national standards should be set to improve performance, and education, health and care plans (EHCPs), which help pupils with SEND access support in school, should be digitised and simplified to reduce unnecessary paper work.
Councils would be legally required to set up “local inclusion plans” which would bring education and health services together, and make providers’ responsibilities clearer.
Councils would also have a new national framework to simplify funding for pupils and young people with SEND up to the age of 25.
The paper also proposes that mainstream schools need to become more inclusive and identify SEND needs earlier to improve support.