Ministers must act to help the 'invisible children' in our schools

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10 April 2018 by
April 2018 has been described as “the end of the beginning” for the SEND Code of Practice reform, in that (theoretically) all children with statements should now have transferred onto Education Health and Care Plans.

It may also be the beginning of the end, as evidence mounts that the SEND system is failing to provide adequate support for some of our most vulnerable learners. At the (last ever) ATL annual Conference in 2018, members debated a motion entitled Invisible Children, which highlighted the fact that many children with SEND and mental health conditions are utterly failed and essentially erased from our schools.

As things stand national SEND provision is failing.

  • SEND tribunal numbers are soaring and 90% of parents win.
  • 8000 children are stuck at home waiting for school places that don’t exist.
  • 80% of pupils in PRUs have SEND - failed by inappropriate or poor mainstream provision.
  • Ofsted and the CQC are criticising LA after LA for poor SEND provision.
  • Schools are forced to cut SEND provision as the funding crisis bites.

Last week we ran a survey online asking parents of children with SEND to share their stories. Over 400 parents responded. Here are some of the headline stats:

  • less than half of parents (48%) agreed that their child was in the type of provision they wanted
  • 36% of parents waited more than two years for a diagnosis 
  • 43% felt their child was not supported by their school.

Most shocking of all, 74% of parents felt they received inadequate support to help their child.

Those who answered our survey not only provided us with raw data. They also bore their souls. Here are a few of the comments:

The school were woefully unprepared to welcome any child who did not fit their perfect child requirement. They cannot cope with difference and try to encourage conformity not acceptance. Their whole ethos needs to change to become inclusive... not just to have her in the school but othered and excluded from full participation.

We won placement at tribunal for a fantastic school but this was merged in with another purchased by the group. Transition was terrible as is communication with parents. I don’t feel they are following everything in EHCP to meet her emotional needs. Basically, it feels like a case of “this is how we do it at this school, so tough!”

At primary school my son went into refusal and couldn't access the classroom. He worked in the corridor with me as school refused to provide TA support. I gave up my job. Having been out for most of year 6, he was at home for year 7 throughout the EHCP process because [he was] unable to access mainstream. He gained a specialist place for year 8. He struggled with frequent staff changes. By the end of the first term he was attending for three hours a week. Then the classroom was changed and the teacher left. There was no transition to this. He experienced symptoms of PTSD connected to a breakdown of trust with a teacher in year 6. He became unable to leave his room due to extreme anxiety. The specialist placement failed.

Now on a third placement. The first filed reports and put nothing in place to support, even after following the complaints procedure. The second made all the right noises but in reality made things ten times worse. Our older son was excluded twice and ended up refusing to attend. Our younger son’s needs were not met at all - he has ended up with long term medical condition as a result. [He was] out of school for a term and half before starting latest placement. Both have been bullied.

As my child is compliant at school, she is not entitled to any further help to access curriculum. The school say there will be no evidence for an EHCP and they will not pay for outside help. The data is clear that she is not meeting her potential. I feel this is grossly unfair to her, because she is no trouble to the teachers. Basically, [she is] not being given the help to fully access curriculum, and therefore is stuck in below average to failing her year group... I have sought the advice of many SEN organisations, no one can help and I cannot legally make the school pay to get the help of services which I know will help.

We have to do better than this. This isn’t just about money, and funding cuts, its about creating and sustaining inclusive school and college environments. Every single education professional needs to see these children and refuse to let them become invisible.

Now compare these experiences with the words of politicians who implemented the SEND Code of Practice. At the time, coalition ministers stated:

Our vision for children with special educational needs and disabilities is the same as for all children and young people – that they achieve well in their early years, at school and in college, and lead happy and fulfilled lives… For children and young people this means that their experiences will be of a system which is less confrontational and more efficient. Their special educational needs and disabilities will be picked up at the earliest point with support routinely put in place quickly, and their parents will know what services they can reasonably expect to be provided. Children and young people and their parents or carers will be fully involved in decisions about their support and what they want to achieve. Importantly, the aspirations for children and young people will be raised through an increased focus on life outcomes, including employment and greater independence.

How much worse do things have to get before ministers will recognise that the code is not delivering on this promise?

Help us make the invisible visible again

Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing nine stories from the nine children featured in the image at the top of this post. Please help us spread their stories far and wide - find the posts on Facebook and share them with your friends.