In a new survey, NEU members have given a damning Ofsted-style ranking of the current support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) with the vast majority (92%) saying the next Government must provide more funding in order to improve the situation. 

When asked to rate the Government’s support to SEND pupils, 67% of respondents rated performance “Poor”, 31% “Requires Improvement, 2% “Good” and an absolute zero for “Outstanding”.




Requires improvement












The survey also finds that 88% of respondents believe the challenges to supporting SEND pupils have worsened since 2015, with 53% of all respondents saying it has got ‘a lot worse’. Just 7% had witnessed an improvement.

This snapshot survey of National Education Union members, released today (15 November), highlights the challenges facing schools in meeting the needs of children with SEND. One-fifth of respondents (62) are head teachers and 193 respondents (61%) serve as Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCO) in their school, lending weight to the significant concerns expressed.

Barriers to effective support for SEND pupils

When asked about the barriers to effective support for SEND pupils, the responses were striking:

  • 89% said funding levels were a barrier, and that this had worsened. 59% of all respondents believe it has got ‘a lot worse’.
  • LSA and TA staffing numbers had improved for just 4% of respondents. A far greater number – 79% - had seen a reduction at their school.
  • 76% have witnessed longer waiting times for SEND assessment, and 91% stated that waiting times for access to support services (CAMHS/BSS/EPS) have worsened too.
  • 42% stated that class sizes had gone up in their school. Just 2% had seen an improvement.
  • It can be inferred that an increase in class size and reduction in LSA/TA staff reduces contact time: 63% of respondents confirmed a reduction in small group or 1:1 intervention at their school
  • Inflexible curriculum and a toxic testing culture remain a negative factor, with respondents saying they are getting worse (46% and 58% respectively).

In open comments, respondents painted a compelling picture of the challenges in supporting SEND pupils, and what those young people are missing out on.

“All external agencies seem to be increasingly under pressure and so the threshold for referral is higher and waiting lists longer.”

“Funding for EHCP and actually getting an EHCP is incredibly difficult. Mainstream schools are being asked to teach more complex needs pupils but without the staff, training or money.”

“School budgets are so tight that it is impossible to fund support staff, interventions and the purchasing of resources to fully support the pupils who are struggling to learn and cope emotionally. We are expected to support pupils who have severe learning and/or behavioural difficulties without the support network to do so. Staff are feeling increasingly under pressure as a result.”

“Funding, staff, skills for the increasing complex needs are lacking across the board and teachers/teaching assistants remain squeezed.”

“We have a lot more children with SEN and have had to reduce the number of teaching assistants we have due to budget restrictions.”

“Children are displaying a wider range of needs which require specific knowledge from the staff working with them. There is training out there but the cost to send someone for this is high.”

“Funding for schools is now so threadbare there is no extra to go around. We are struggling to put in the provision to support children in order to be able to apply for top up funding.”

Current SEND provision

This survey comes at a time of great constraint in central funding for SEND provision. Government spending has simply not kept pace with the numbers of children with Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) and the support to which they are each entitled. Respondents completed our survey with that in mind, as well as the following:

  • Since 2015, 93% of local authorities have lost out on vital funding for children who need the most support.
  • More than one million children with SEND do not have adequate funding to help them access their education, and thousands of young people have no educational provision at all.
  • Despite the Government’s recent pledge of an additional £700m in funding for SEND, schools and local authorities are still facing a £1bn funding shortfall.

What the next Government must do

When asked what the Government needed to do to improve SEND provision, an overwhelming 92% of members said “more funding”:

More funding



Quicker access to SEND assessment



Quicker access to local SEND support services



More effective early intervention and SEND support



Improve mental health provision for young people



Flexible curriculum



More joined up thinking






Commenting on the results of the survey, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“It should be a point of shame for the Government that so few education staff believe it is up to the task of providing for SEND pupils. If this truly were an Ofsted adjudication, the Department for Education would be in special measures by now.  

“Every child with SEND should have access to the provision they deserve, but it is all too often the case that parents and teachers are confronted with barriers.

“The campaign for more funding has made significant gains but it has not gone far enough. It is quite clear that the Government’s strategy is failing, and much more needs to be done to ensure that every child gets the support needed. We are still £1bn short of funding to properly support SEND children in schools

“It would be a grave error to underestimate the strength of feeling amongst parents of SEND pupils. Parents, heads, teachers and school staff are listening closely to the pledges of each party in this election. If you value education, you must vote for education.”

The online survey of 318 members was conducted from 7-11 November 2019. 66% of respondents are based in maintained primary schools, 15% in secondaries, 4% all-through, 6% early years, and 9% special schools.

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