On 26th July, the Department for Education released its annual SEND statistics. The figures appear fairly unsurprising: pupils with SEN make up a slightly larger proportion of the January 2018 (14.6 %) cohort than was the case in January 2017 (14.4). While only a small proportional increase, the actual figure was 31,960. There has been an increase in the number of young people whose needs have yet to be assessed: 4.1% or 38,669 students who are on SEND support have not had an assessment to determine their main areas of need. Young people with SEND whose needs have not yet been fully assessed and understood are reliant on having teachers and other professionals around them, who have the training and experience to be able to meet their needs. Young people with SEND are more than twice as likely to be entitled to free school meals when compared to those without SEND (25.8% of students with SEND versus 11.5% of those without). Where these two things intersect, lies a problematic pathway for young people.
Young people whose needs have not been assessed may well not make progress as teachers and support staff may not know how to best support them. Lead times on accessing Local Authority assessments may be such that a significant amount of school-time is lost for these young people. While private assessment is possible, given the likelihood of young people being entitle to free school meals, there may not be the means within these families to access such assessments. So while we can look at governmental data, where various permutations of need are broken down, churned through statistical software and turned into ‘infographics’ to tell us about the January 2018 cohort of students, what can teachers and other school staff do on the ground to help young people on the ground? Young people who have SEND, but whose needs are not being met are less likely to make progress in line with their peers, will find accessing the curriculum more difficult and as I noted above, are more likely to be excluded from school. Austerity within the current education system is reducing school’s capacities to support those with SEND appropriately and, when coupled with poverty and lack of full understanding of needs, limits the life chances of young people.
My own background as a teacher in Barnsley, South Yorkshire saw me working in some challenging settings, where young people sometimes experienced significant disadvantage. However, this was counterbalanced by schools having large teams of learning mentors, teaching assistants and access to resources, which enabled young people with SEND to make academic progress in line with their peers meand make the most of their time at school. Funding for this type of support has been reduced in recent years, limiting school’s ability to meet (or assess) needs. The NEU highlights the effect of funding cuts for those with SEND; a stance I wholeheartedly support. I am an experienced SEN teacher and SENCO, and feel that we are letting down our young people at present. I hope, in the coming years to be able to provide high quality support for my students both in my paid capacity as a SEN teacher and as a volunteer in a local school.
Surely I can do something useful!