In light of COVID-19, schools and teachers face a number of obstacles to overcome, from maintaining pupil morale to delivering content effectively.
But one of the biggest challenges is supporting students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in order to reduce the disadvantage gap in young people.
Each and every teacher is bound to have their own heartbreaking or heartwarming experience of working with vulnerable children. But how can education professionals ensure stories of success in the future?
Dealing with the growing need for SEND support
At this moment in time, there are over 10 million children in 320,000 schools across the UK. Of these schools, roughly 1,250 are special schools teaching an estimated 354,000 children and young people with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) as of January 2019.
It goes without saying that all of these young people require additional support, but the number of difficulties and disabilities classified as SEND are perhaps broader than you might think. In fact, assessments for SEND are at an all-time high.
SEND is defined as having “a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age” or “a disability which prevents or hinders [them] from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools.”
Not only are external agencies stretched to breaking point, a lack of training and reduced resources for teachers, schools and local councils mean that demand isn’t being met. This was all before COVID-19 too.
According to the Department for Education, the number of children and young people with EHCP in England increased each year between 2010 and 2019, which currently stands at roughly 354,000.
Even though the number of learning difficulties and disabilities is unlikely to have actually increased, assessments are now more common due to greater understanding, awareness and openness of SEND.
Working out a long-term SEND solution
Regardless of whether a student has EHCP or not, there is a great deal of work required to ensure students are fully supported and able to achieve in school.
One option is to adopt a ‘quality-first teaching’ approach in the classroom. However, there’s no evidence to show how this strategy would meet the needs of students with SEND. Another potential solution, which makes more sense, is additional teacher training. The issue here is what this would look like in practice once schools fully re-open.
Days before the UK went into lockdown, the March 2020 Budget revealed that the Department for Education in England would receive £4.5bn in funding. But whether any of this will be put aside for SEND funding remains to be seen – in 2018, a mere £350 million was announced.
Despite the fact schools can’t magically generate extra funding, every parent and teacher should make their voices heard in regards to SEND funding. Because unless something dramatic happens, the government won’t be issuing any more cash from its seemingly empty pockets.