Inclusion and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND): Is this an education system in crisis?


As someone who has worked in SEND for twenty five years as a teaching assistant (TA) in both mainstream and special education, as Portage worker, Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator and  having recently authored a book relating to SEND, I have found myself becoming increasingly alarmed by the many media articles over the past few months (House of Commons: 2019, Guardian; 12/2019, Nursery World: 2019) relating to the breakdown of SEND provision for some of the most vulnerable children in our society.

In 1978 Mary Warnock was charged with reviewing the education of children with SEN who at the time were being educated in institutions away from their home. I was fortunate to be working as a Portage worker when the first SEN Code of Practice was commissioned by the Department for Education in 2001.  The code very much supported the role of Portage. A Portage worker visits very young children (0 – 3) who have either been diagnosed with SEN at birth or subsequently. They carry out developmental programmes through play, set out by alongside the child’s parents to support their holistic development. They also support parents with the emotional challenges of having a child with SEN as well as with appointments with a range of multi agency professionals.

My own experience was that the service became a lifeline for many parents who were getting over the diagnosis of a SEN for their child and who were bewildered by the education system, and the new push for children with SEN wherever possible to be educated in their local mainstream schools.  However as time has moved on these services have been diminished.

In 2014 the Code was redrafted jointly by the Department of Health and Department for Education and the name changed to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Code of Practice (SEND). This new piece of legislation was seen by many as being positive, and indeed a leading charity working with educators of children with SEND claimed that the new code represented ‘a transformation in the way support is provided for children and young people with SEND up to the age of 25’ (NASEN).

However five years on, it would seem that the revised code is proving difficult to administer and I wonder whether it is indeed fit for purpose?  Announcing a new major funding bid of (£700m) for children with complex needs,  the Education minister has called for yet another review of provision – maybe this suggests that the system of inclusion is failing large groups of children and I wonder why this may be.

A recent review carried out by the Educational Select Committee (2019) discovered that the

  • the new code is still too bureaucratic
  • parents trying to get Education Health Care plans (EHCP), (the documentation that replaced Statements of  Special Educational  Needs) are still finding the process cumbersome and time consuming and too focused on what the child cannot do rather than what they can do
  • parents are still expected to ‘know the system’ and receive limited support from professionals when deciding which school to send their child to
  • parents are being left ‘exhausted’ by a system that is not yet efficient enough to support children and their families.

Alongside this Local Authorities (LA’s) budgets are being cutback, which inevitably has an impact on their ability to implement a range of services for children and families as effectively as they should.  At the same time the country has been through / is currently going through a period of austerity which means that local authority budgets are cut back drastically and this has an impact both on the services which they can offer and on all school budgets.

These budgets affect not just mainstream provision but also special schools. It has a further impact on the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) that teachers and teaching assistants receive. One practitioner told me recently that the only training offered at the moment through local authorities is safeguarding because this is legislative. Yet many teachers and teaching assistants require more extensive training in order to work with children with specific developmental and health needs. To say nothing of the fact that many children with SEND also have medical issues which require staff to be fully trained to support children with feeding, respiratory issues and to administer life saving treatments.

It seems to me that teachers are becoming overwhelmed with the requirements of a ‘standards driven curriculum’ which might  suggest that children with SEND do not receive the level of support they require as they struggle to make the progress that other children do. It would appear that the system is indeed in crisis and that more funding and support from local authorities is required if true inclusion is to be available for children with SEND.

In my view it is vital that all children should grow up to accept difference and diversity.  The inclusion of children with SEND into mainstream schools is an essential part of children growing up to accept difference and diversity and should continue wherever possible..

  • What are the major challenges you face when supporting children with SEND in 2020?
  • How do you think the system could be improved?
  • How effective do you think inclusion is for children with SEND?

Penny Borkett                                                                                  

February 2020



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