Some schools are reducing teaching assistants and SEND pupils are being caught up in ‘a black hole of no support’, says one SEND specialist
There is a worrying trend that I have noticed over the past couple of years of visiting Sencos in secondary schools all around the UK. In some schools, teaching assistants are disappearing from our secondary classrooms in alarming numbers, despite the fact that the overall number of teaching assistants working in secondary schools has increased.
It’s true that some schools are recruiting more TAs, but I have found that others have half as many teaching assistants as they had two years ago. And, meanwhile, the number of children with special educational needs and disabilityand complex needs is increasing.
Part of the problem, one Senco told me, is that children are coming to secondary school with unidentified SEND. Her school sets the SEND budget ─ including the budget to pay teaching assistants’ salaries ─ based on the number of pupils with education health and care plans. But when pupils with SEND are identified in Year 7, she then has to fight for funds to cover their support.
This particular Senco doesn’t blame the feeder primary schools for not identifying needs sooner; she understands that they, too, are under great pressure. However, budget constraintsmean that her ability to share out her support staff is already severely limited. Intervention groups are being cancelled and well-qualified members of staff are being made redundant. As a result, more pupils with SEND are failing to make progress at her school, challenging behaviour is increasing and more children are being permanently excluded.
‘Cuts are likely to hit learning support hard’
Given this, is it really any wonder that we hear of headteachers who actively dissuade parents from sending children with SEND to their school because they “won’t be able to meet their needs”?
I have never seen Sencos so worried about their ability to meet the support needs of the SEND pupils coming in the next academic year. The looming shortfalls and redundancies are likely to hit learning support hard. And without that support, I wonder where all the children with SEND are going to go.
The notional support of an extra £6,000 that schools are supposed to spend on a child with SEND from their devolved budgetis crippling for some. Many headteachers I have spoken to spend way above that on staffing, resources, training, and specialist advice for some children anyway. The situation is not sustainable.
Fewer teaching assistants in some schools means that access to mainstream education is being eroded in places, and while I believe that special schools are right for some children, there are many other able pupils out there who are now being caught up in a black hole of poor or no support.
I’m not sure what the answer is, but as school budgets continue to tighten, you can be sure that learning support, and the pupils who depend on it, will be the first to feel the pinch.
Lynn McCann is an autism specialist, teacher and consultant at Reachout ASC. Her book, How to Support Pupils with Autism Spectrum Condition in Primary School, was published in January 2017.