Why SEN Units are declining in England’s state-funded schools – a teacher’s perspective

Why SEN Units are declining in England's state-funded schools - a teacher's perspective
What happens to students when SEN units are cut? Source: Shutterstock

SEN; three letters to represent children with special needs and disabilities.

These three letters that have recently been crunched into valuable data by the UK Department for Education, titled Special educational needs in England 2018: National Tables.

After analysis and dissection of the data, important rises and falls were uncovered, and these deserved an investigation of their own.

The first crucial revelation relates to the number of State-funded Primary and Secondary schools with SEN Units in England from 2014-2018.

As the graph below shows, there was a slow increase from 2014-2017, but this year that number dropped significantly to 1,392 schools with SEN Units (specialised support for students with special needs).

And yet, the below graph shows a dramatic increase from 1,032,110 SEN pupils in 2017 to 1,050, 255 pupils in 2018.

This year has seen many more learners who require special needs support, so why have SEN units been cut from state-funded primary and secondary schools in England?

To answer this question, we sought the opinion of primary and secondary school teachers from two state-funded schools in England.

“Looking at the data, to me it looks like the local education authorities (LEAs) have got involved and removed these SEN Units due to funding issues. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it goes with local councils in England,” said primary school teacher Ms. Clifton.

For Mr Brinkmann, it’s not uncommon to see figures like this go up and drop down in the SEN sector for both primary and secondary schools that are state-funded and believes that these issues should be investigated further by the Department for Education. 

“Personally, I think it’s because of funding. Some schools may have had no choice but to cut the SEN support,” he adds. 

“This doesn’t look good, especially as I’ve taught many SEN pupils in the past. The decrease could be to do with the school’s funding or perhaps they did not require the support that year?” said primary school teacher Mrs Reid-Jones.

“Either 18,000+ schools wanted to take down their SEN Units (unlikely in my opinion), or the LEAs have something to do with it,” said secondary school teacher, Ms. Prizer.

Will diminishing SEN units alienate England’s SEN pupils in England? Source: Pan Xiaozhen/Unsplash

As the above suggests, it’s highly likely that funding issues are behind the recent decline in SEN units in England’s state-funded schools.

If SEN Units are dying out as a result of financial burden, despite the growing need for this support to stay in action, what will happen to these vulnerable and highly-dependent children in the next few years?

Is it really fair to take funding away from students that need the extra support?

Of course, every case is individual, but on a broad spectrum of thought, perhaps these potential ‘funding cuts’ could be made elsewhere…

*For the sake of anonymity, some names have been changed

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