I greeted the announcement this week that the Government was allocating £30 million to support the training and deployment of special needs champions with mixed feelings.
I know just how much this type of support is needed and I also know from personal experience just how significant an impact those working in user led organisations can have on parents of children with SEND, from my time working as a trustee for @OxFSN.
One of my greatest concerns throughout the recent liberalisation of the SEND funding processes, which have resulted in significant opportunities and responsibilities for parents of young people with learning difficulties, is that those parents who themselves have a learning disability are at significant risk of being left behind by the reforms. This funding can have a particularly profound impact on them.
However if we look at this in the context of the millions used to fund the implementation of the SEND reforms by Local Authorities, in addition to significant funding for the SEND Pathfinders programme, then we have something of a conflict.
On the one hand we are going through a process of significant investment in the evaluation and the implementation of the emerging legislation, but on the other we are going through a period of sustained reduction in the direct funding of the schools delivering the provision.
It is also a cause of frustration that the Government is funding support to access the new legislative processes, despite one of the core ambitions of the SEN Green Paper being to make the process less opaque:
This will mean ending the frustration, complexity and confrontation inherent in today’s system, which in itself can undermine family life.
It raises a question regarding the extent to which they have succeeded in this ambition if it needs an investment of £30 million to support access. Unless of course it is finance which is being used to increase transparency, rather than the quality of legislation.
It is also worth noting that this injection of funding it intended to result in 1,800 ‘champions’. Given that according to the 2011 data there were almost 225,000 children with statements of SEN, that equates to one person for every 125 children. So whilst the headline figure seems generous, the impact may be limited.
However, returning to my previous point, the greatest concern should be that while the Government is investing in the legislative process, they are reducing investment in the provision of Special education. So we are in a situation where there has been millions to develop it, millions to implement it, millions to navigate it and millions taken from those providing it!
The effect of reduced finances on special schools’ ability to continue to develop educational provision in the face of increasing need and increasing complexity of need can be broadly summarised here:
The wider development of professional knowledge may begin to slow as schools focus constrained CPD budgets on statutory training requirements such as manual handling, physical intervention and paediatric first aid.
The investment in ‘alternatives’ may also begin to reduce as schools become more financially risk averse. The institution’s ability to spend on the potential of pedagogical development reduces and the focus becomes more directed towards known outcomes.
The school’s ability to meet the needs of children with highly specialised requirements may begin to reduce as they become less able to invest in high cost but low use resourcing, resourcing which can have a transformative impact on children, but not necessarily on a large number of them.
The existing knowledge level may begin to be eroded as schools decide not to replace staff who leave, absorbing additional workloads internally.
Newly appointed staff may take longer to reach an appropriate performance threshold due to reduced access to professional development opportunities.
This in turn may affect the school’s capacity to improve more broadly, as school leaders focus more on trying to fill the emerging capability gap.
Schools’ capacity to improve may become further influenced by the internalisation and concentration of workload, due to less staff to delegate to and less experienced staff to provide wider support.
Existing resource impact levels may begin to drop, as schools are unable to meet the replenishment needs of resourcing caused by wear and tear, or through not being able to invest in wider resource development.
This could reduce the flexibility of resourcing and may impact upon the staff’s repertoire of methodologies, potentially leading to pedagogical decisions being influenced by what we have rather than by what we need.
Broader decisions might begin to be taken from an economically dominated position, rather than from a pedagogically dominated one. The budget begins to take precedent over the child.
Institutional competency could begin to reduce as a result of professional knowledge gaps being unable to be filled, complicated by resourcing gaps widening through underinvestment.
This might be magnified by the impact of developments in medical care, leading to more children with highly complex needs reaching school age.
Schools may become less able to meet the needs of their pupils due to a lack of investment in the future and the inability to maintain existing levels of staffing knowledge and resourcing.
In the longer term, this may have a greater degree of impact upon wider support needs, as pupils potentially leave school with a reduced degree of independence, leading to a higher degree of reliance upon social services and state financial support, further influenced by a reduced number entering employment.
So whilst the Government continues to invest in the development of the legislation around access to provision for children with SEND, the tragic irony is that the quality of that provision is being placed at risk by a systematic reduction in the funding available to deliver it.
We are continually expected to do more for less and yet the demands on the provision we offer are growing and the complexity of those accessing our provision is increasing.
If the government continues to starve schools of funding, and after several years of a minimum funding guarantee actually acting as a maximum funding guarantee, then the tragedy is that we may end up having well supported systems in place at the expense of the provision itself.