Natasha Devon is putting Gove-o-philes, the Department of Education, and Theresa May on notice: something has to change to solve the crisis in mental health provision.
A New Deal for Education
With workers in the UK experiencing the worst period of wage stagnation for two centuries, the TUC march in London called for a 'new deal for working people'. National Education Union joint general secretary Mary Bousted said:
"With a teacher shortage crisis, the Government needs to focus on improving teachers' pay and provide a fully funded pay rise as part of a package of increased funding for all schools and colleges."
Teachers' pay has been cut by around 15% since 2010 and, alongside excessive workload, this is harming recruitment and retention in schools and making it hard for schools to find subject specialists in English, maths, sciences and foreign languages.
"Without increased funding, schools will have to continue cutting the number of support staff, which leaves vulnerable children with less support and further increases teachers' workloads." Dr Bousted addressed crowds at a rally in Hyde Park following the march.
When the TUC compared the current wages squeeze with every major earnings crisis in the past 200 years, it found real wages recovered more quickly after the Great Depression and the Second World War than they have since the 2008 financial crisis. They increased by 27% in the decade before 2008, but have fallen by four per cent in the decade since.
The TUC estimates that, as a result of pay not keeping pace with the cost of living, by 2025 the average worker will have lost out on around £18,500 in real earnings. A decade on from the financial crisis, real wages are still worth £24 a week less than in 2008, and they are not forecast to return to their pre-crash levels until 2025.
LGBT+ on the agenda
ATL section members took part in the first National Education Union LGBT+ educators conference in April With 250 delegates, the event in Leeds was the biggest LGBT+ conference in both ATL and NUT section history. Julia Neal, the National Education Union representative on the TUC's LGBT+ Committee, said: "Half the attendees had never attended an LGBT+ event before, so this proved to be a fantastic opportunity to organise, as well as to bring solidarity to the National Education Union's LGBT+ community.
"This conference was both inspirational and informative and has created a buzz since. Delegates have reported returning to their workplaces empowered to transform cultures, policies and proactively create caring and supportive spaces for LGBT+ educators and students."
Motions to the conference covered support for LGBT+ black and disabled members to combat discrimination and harassment and the need for LGBT+ equality training for all. The first-ever LGBT + educators awards ceremony celebrated the work being done across the union to help support young people in the trans community, and there were CPD sessions to support educators in their work with LGBT+ students.
"I AM FALLING apart, my kids are falling apart, and I don't know what I'm supposed to do. There are days I go home and cry after school. I am failing my children," says key stage 2 teacher Emma Parker. "Is it because I don't know how to support them? Because I haven't got the right equipment? Because I don't care?" she adds. "No, it's because I have special education needs and disabilities (SEND) children in my class, most of whom need individual lessons planned, some of whom are suffering with mental health issues, several who are awaiting diagnosis - and neither they or me are getting the support we desperately need."
The squeeze on school and local authority funding means provision for SEND is being cut, leaving children and young people in crisis, she says. In her case, without the support of a teaching assistant (TA), who left last year and has not been replaced, every day she faces a decision she believes no teacher should ever have to face.
Do I leave him to cry, or do I support the rest of my students who need me to extend their learning?"
"My autism spectrum disorder (ASD) student cries in class as he is academically four years behind his peers and cannot cope socially or emotionally. I have to decide whether I support him or everyone else. Do I leave him to cry, putting his already fragile emotional well-being at risk? Or do I support the rest of my students who need me to extend their learning?" Parker was so determined to highlight these issues that she brought a motion to the ATL section Annual Conference in April, where she described some of the "invisible children" being failed, and called for research into the underfunding of mental health i e; services for children and young people along with Government investment in their well-being.
"The crisis in SEND funding and support is not just impacting on SEND students, it is affecting everyone," she says. "I struggle to plan engaging interactive lessons as I have to cater for so many students' needs. I know that my middle-ability students are crying out for support and my high ability students are not being pushed as much as they could be. But I am just one person, and am already working 60-plus hours a week just to keep my head above water."
Because of the education funding crisis, schools are finding it harder and harder to set money aside for SEND.
In March this year, when the National Education Union surveyed members about funding for SEND provision, half of respondents said their school had cut support for SEND children, compared to a figure of 40% last year. At the same time, the number of tribunals challenging a local authority's decisions regarding SEND are soaring - and parents are winning in around 90% of cases.
One teacher said: "Without SEND, behaviour and classroom support, there is a trail of teachers at breaking point as we try and cope with children with a high level of need, while keeping up with the increasing expectations of outcomes."
Another reported: "It's almost impossible to give our SEND children the one-to-one time they need. The situation is desperate. The Government has put the bar too high for the children and withdrawn the resources that might have helped us reach that." Another said: "Our special SEND support was a highlight of the school, but the lack of funding has led to increased cuts to SEND support staff and specialist teachers.
This is having a detrimental effect on students, leading to more students having to leave, or contemplating leaving, mainstream provision." The new SEND code of practice, which came into effect in 2014, was supposed to improve things for these children by involving them and their parents in decision-making around provision. Part of the reforms saw education and health care plans (EHCPs) replace SEN statements for those with more complex needs. Schools are expected to meet the first £6,000 of additional costs for each child from their budgets, with top-up funding for pupils whose needs exceed this from the local authority's 'highneeds block' budget. But accessing this can be a difficult, lengthy process.
Where Parker lives, the wait for the diagnosis needed to unlock this additional support can be up to five years. In the survey, nearly 40% of primary respondents said it has become harder to access external support service interventions. Diagnosis is needed for a young person to get an EHCP, which Parker describes as the "golden ticket" - but a child may be turned down because a box hasn't been ticked, or someone who has never met the child, or spoken to their teacher or the student's family, deems they don't need one. Parker says that with "yet more evidence", more "jumping through hoops", an EHCP may finally be granted that states the child needs additional support. What then? In many cases, a local authority will simply not have the space in the local special school parents might want, and the child is left struggling in a mainstream school. Or, when a child wants to remain in mainstream education, they may be unable to because the support they need is not available there.
Here are three of the "invisible children" primary teacher and member Emma Parker introduced at Conference
Morgan is nearly10. Her mother has been asking for help since she was two. She has violent tendencies and has hurt herself, her mother and her younger sister on numerous occasions. Morgan has masked her symptoms at school, but her mental health is deteriorating and she is now a school-refuser and having suicidal thoughts. Her assessment for ASD and ADHD is now being rushed through due to this decline in her health, yet an emergency appointment has taken six months.
"For children with ASD, even with a diagnosis, the future is bleak because many local authorities have no aftercare support as they do not have the funds to run it. You wait for years for a diagnosis, get given a piece of paper, and then you are left on your own with a fragile young person with no support or guidance of how to support them," Parker says. In her class, Parker has two children with global delay, one with ASD, two with anxiety and four still awaiting diagnosis. Four more need counselling -but there is an 18-month wait because the school can only afford to pay for
a limited number of hours with a counsellor each week.
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