There are days I go home and cry after school. I am failing my children. Is it because I don’t know how to support them? Is it because I haven’t got the right equipment? Is it because I don’t care?
No, It is none of these reasons. It’s because I have nine special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) children in my class most who need individual lessons planned. Some who are suffering with mental health issues, several who are awaiting diagnosis and neither myself or they are getting the support they desperately need.
I teach in KS2, have experience of teaching in all the primary key stages, a passion for inclusion and experience and knowledge of a variety of conditions children face. I have even personally paid for extra training and attended a variety of CPD events organised by ATL for SEND so why am I falling apart and why are my learners in crisis?
Within my class I have two children with global delay, one with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), two with anxiety and four who are still awaiting diagnosis. I have four who need counselling, but we are probably looking at 18 months till they are seen. We are lucky; we have a counsellor for two hours a week but the waiting list is huge and due to a decreased budget we can’t afford any more hours.
Due to school cuts, I no longer have a Teaching Assistant (TA), who left last year and hasn’t been replaced. This means that my ASD student is now left to cry in classes as he is academically four years behind his peers and cannot cope socially or emotionally. This means that I have to make a decision, a decision that no teacher should ever face. I have to decide whether I support my ASD student or support 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 and support their learning?
The crisis in SEND funding and SEND support is not just impacting on our SEND students – it is effecting everyone. 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. But I am just one person and I am already working 60+ hours a week just to keep my head above water.
The funding cuts haven’t just hit schools. In Stockton it is estimated to be around four to five years for an ASD diagnosis. This is causing significant distress to parents, children and schools who are not able to access appropriate resources and support. For children and families with ASD, even with a diagnosis, the future is bleak as many local authorities have no after-care support as the do not have the funds to run it. So 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.
And so we reach the top of the mountain, eventually our learners get a diagnosis and we start the arduous task of applying for an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP). This is the golden ticket which unlocks the funding and support we desperately need, but often we are turned down because a box hasn’t been ticked or someone who has never met the child or spoken to myself or the student’s family deems they don’t need one.
The fight has begun. We evidence, evidence and evidence each criteria, jumping through every hoop in our way and eventually after months and months the EHCP is granted. It states that the child needs a specialist provision. We have won!
But wait. After discussion with the Local Authority and the parents we now find out there are no places in any special schools in our area. So instead of getting the specialist support they deserve these children are left to flounder in mainstream whilst teachers do their best to support them whilst trying to support all the learners in their class.
My students deserve better. You would not leave a sick child without medication, so stop leaving our most vulnerable children without the support they need and deserve to ensure they can reach their potential. Schools need to be funded properly, diagnosis times must be cut, the EHCP process needs a full overhaul to ensure that the child and not the cost is central. Above all else, families and their children need appropriate and quick access to support.
Written by Emma Parker, teacher and ATL Section District Secretary & Executive member.