“THE biggest difficulty we’re facing as SENCOs is funding at local authority and school level. The money just isn’t available to support the students.”

Debs Gwynn, from Liverpool, has been a special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) for ten years, teaching at her current school for the last five. She has seen a huge drop in the amount of funding and support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

“I don’t know a single SENCO who isn’t overwhelmed with work,” she said. “In the past, there was a lot more support from the local authority. If you had a particularly challenging student, the council could provide you with help or training or send in someone with the necessary expertise; but now that just doesn’t happen as it doesn’t have the money.”

In response to the growing problem facing SENCOs and their students, the National Education Union (NEU), alongside Bath Spa University and the National Association of Special Educational Needs (nasen), launched a survey to find out how bad things are getting. The results are frightening.

SENCOs across the country highlighted significant workload issues caused by funding cuts. “The dire lack of funding for SEND makes the job even harder,” said one respondent. “My time seems to be spent mainly firefighting. With no admin support or anyone else to share the load, I am permanently behind.”

The survey also found that, as a consequence of underfunding, head teachers and governors are being left with impossible choices. “The level of need in my school is such that the high-needs children take up all my time so those who are just SEN support get very little of my attention,” said another respondent.

“There is not enough money in the budget to allow for more SENCO hours.”

The survey found that 43 per cent of primary and 71 per cent of secondary SENCOs are working nine or more extra hours per week – the equivalent to at least an additional full working day on top of any allocated time. This does not take into account additional time spent teaching or working in other roles within the school.

When respondents were asked if they intended to be in the role in five years’ time, only 34 per cent responded positively. Half of those who said they intended to leave cited workload as the primary reason.

As one survey respondent said: “It is about time that schools were funded properly to support children with SEND. The system is only working because dedicated staff do everything possible to support pupils. It urgently needs to change.”