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Thousands of children with special needs do not have school places amid crisis in education funding, union warns

‘It is an absolute disgrace that the government is starving local authorities of the resources needed for children with special needs’

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Sunday 01 April 2018 00:40 BST
The lack of funding was also blamed for an increase in physical and verbal abuse against teachers by pupils with special needs
The lack of funding was also blamed for an increase in physical and verbal abuse against teachers by pupils with special needs (PA)

Thousands of children with special needs are not in school and teachers face shocking levels of violence in the classroom amid a “crisis” in education funding, teaching unions suggest.

Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are paying the price for funding cuts as councils struggle to find them provision, the National Education Union (NEU) claims.

Official figures show the number of youngsters with special educational needs, plans or statements awaiting school places has more than doubled in just one year – from 1,710 in 2016 to 4,050 in 2017.

The NEU – which is hosting its annual conference in Brighton this Easter – says local councils are being “starved” of the money they need for children with SEND, making it difficult to provide a suitable education.

The government data also shows that over five years, the number of children with an education, health and care (EHC) plan or statement has increased by 441 per cent, from 749 children in 2012.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “Local authorities are being placed in an impossible position. They have a legal duty to plan high quality education for every child with SEND, but cuts have taken away the resources they need to educate children with complex needs.”

He added: “It is an absolute disgrace that the government is starving local authorities of the resources needed for children with SEND.

“Children are at home because local authorities don’t have enough money to provide suitable education.”

A shocking new poll from the teaching union NASUWT (The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers) has also found that almost three in five teachers who work with pupils with SEND have been physically assaulted by their students in the last year.

Teachers were head-butted, punched, bitten, kicked and spat on, sometimes on a daily basis, leaving them bruised and injured, the survey of more than 1,600 teachers found.

Nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) have experienced verbal abuse from their pupils in the last year – and 59 per cent have been physically attacked.

And nearly six in 10 teachers said they have also been threatened with assault by their pupils.

One teacher told NASUWT – which is hosting its annual conference in Birmingham this weekend – that they had received more abuse than friends who worked as police and prison officers.

Meanwhile, some teachers said the attitude from their headteachers was that being physically or verbally attacked was just “part of the job” when dealing with children with complex needs.

One in five (21 per cent) of teachers say they were only encouraged to report some incidents, and 7 per cent say they were not encouraged to report incidents to their school at all.

“It has to be a serious assault with injuries and medical attention and sick leave to be taken as serious,” one teacher said.

Earlier this year, the GMB union revealed that the number of serious injuries suffered by education workers following violent assaults had surged by almost a quarter in five years.

The reported injuries, which rose by 24 per cent in that period, include loss of sight, brain damage, loss of consciousness, asphyxia and amputation.

And the rise in violence has been partly blamed on funding cuts to education by some unions.

The NASUWT poll found that 62 per cent of teachers say support for children with SEND had reduced in the last five years.

And more than eight in 10 respondents said that the workload of teachers and school leaders had increased as a result of cuts to specialist services for SEND.

This week, a teacher in Bristol who was found guilty of misconduct after hitting a special needs pupil said cuts to staff and resources had made the job “intolerable”.

Lisa Hunnego, who could be banned from teaching, defended her actions to the Bristol Post saying that she had been verbally abused by the pupil before the incident.

Delegates at the NASUWT conference in Birmingham are due to debate a motion on funding for pupils with SEND which will call for reforms to ensure funds are spent appropriately to meet the needs of the pupils.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “No one should go to work expecting to be assaulted, yet all too often teachers who are attacked are told it’s all part of the job.

“There is simply no excuse for violence to go unchallenged and teachers are put at risk by employers who fail to make clear to pupils and parents that violence will not be tolerated.

“But it’s not only the teachers who are being let down. Pupils with special needs who exhibit violent and disruptive behaviour need more help and support and all too often their needs are not being met.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Core schools and high needs funding has been protected in real terms per pupil and will rise to its highest ever level – over £43bn in 2020, 50 per cent more per pupil spending in real terms than in 2000. The budget for pupils with special educational needs is £6bn this year. Local authorities now have more money for every pupil in every school.‎

“Our new education, health and care plans are putting the views of young people with special educational needs and disabilities and families at the heart of the process so they can help shape the support they receive. This is a hugely significant reform but local authorities are rising to challenge and have reviewed almost 222,000 cases. with initial inspections showing positive outcomes for young people.

“We will continue to work with councils to ensure the new EHC plans are of the highest quality.”

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