From education to employment

State of Education 2024 – SEND

2 girls talking while sat on a sofa

In the latest survey of over 8,000 National Education Union members, conducted ahead of Annual Conference in Bournemouth, we asked teachers and support staff about provision for pupils/students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

  • Seven in eight respondents tell us the resources they do have are insufficient. 76% are calling for more learning support assistants in class.
  • One in three respondents (33%) tell us they have no behaviour support team whatsoever. Two in five (41%) report no counsellor or occupational health specialist. A quarter have no educational psychologist (25%), CAMHS support (26%) or speech and language therapist (28%).
  • With waiting lists growing, a majority (56%) tell us they are not confident that a referral for SEND assessment, diagnosis or specialist support, will lead to that pupil/student getting the help they need.

The State of Education survey gauges the views of working teacher, support staff and school leader NEU members in England and Wales. We are releasing the findings over the course of Annual Conference.

Demand Outstrips Supply

The National Education Union has highlighted the crisis in SEND provision over many years and campaigned for more funding to meet the clear increase in demand for referrals. Parents and teachers are frustrated in their efforts to support young people by a process which is slow and under-resourced.

A year on from the Government’s SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan, we asked members to tell us what provision they have at school or local authority level to support pupils with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) or who may need to be referred for one. The responses paint a picture of schools stretched to the limit in order to meet demand.


In all areas, the demand for more resources is very high, with anywhere between 86%–95% of respondents identifying a need or greater need for each provision. The most acute cases, for 41% of respondents, are the total lack of a school/college counsellor or occupational health specialist.

Even where provision is available, the numbers are insufficient. This is particularly the case with learning support assistants in class (76%), educational psychologists (65%) and CAMHS support (69%). A quarter of respondents have no access at all to the latter two, while 15% have no LSAs.

In comments, respondents contextualised the challenges at school level:

“Our school now has 26% SEND and no qualified SENCO.”

“The current system is failing children. We do not have the resources, environments, skilled staff or time to support these students. Funding is completely inadequate and paying to support children with high-level need has wiped out our school budget and negatively impacted all other pupils.”

Another told us that “every class has pupils with SEND and most now have children with complex needs. These needs often include medical or mental-health needs but the funding isn’t available to properly meet these needs. Last year we made a loss of £7k per child with EHCP, meaning that resources had to be pulled from other children.”

“We have more and more children with needs and less staff resources to support them.”

“Not enough teaching assistant support due to low pay. So even if a pupil has EHCP they do not always get support.”

Since 2015 the number of children and young people with an EHCP has increased by 115%. The Department for Education has only increased funding by 90% and that is before eight years of inflation is taken into account. There exists a £4.6 billion gap between funding which the DfE provides through the High Needs Block and the cost of restoring the value of an EHCP to its real-terms value in 2015-16.

Devon have vastly increased their refusal rate for EHCPs in an effort to tackle their huge budget deficit.”

We’ve been told by the borough that they’re not approving anymore EHCP applications for this academic year.”

The Government’s own data shows that in 2022 alone, 30,932 children waited beyond the legal limit for an EHCP. Parents who receive refusals of SEND support from councils can wait anything up to a year for a legal challenge to be heard.

Never had so many diverse, extreme needs in primary school as now, while trying to achieve standards with a class of 30.”

Confidence in the System

A general sense of frustration emerges in the findings of this State of Education survey, that even when a pupil/student is referred they may not receive the expected and needed support.


Less than 3 in 10 respondents expressed confidence, with just 5% feeling “very confident” about it. This contrast sharply with 27% who said they are “very unconfident”. The rest of the responses paint a mixed view, but with a majority (56%) expressing that they are unconfident.

Waiting lists mean that some children will never be seen. They will ‘age out’ and join adult waiting lists.”

There is currently a six-year wait in my area, meaning students don’t receive the help they need until too late…”

EHCPs for children with high-level need are regularly turned down. I don’t feel any confidence any more that children (particularly those with very significant learning needs, as opposed to behavioural needs) will receive the support they need from an EHCP application. Many are therefore leaving primary school without anything adequate in place as they head into secondary school.”

There is a thinking in my school that it’s not usually worth applying for an EHCP because either it will be rejected or won’t make any difference.”

We are drowning. The children are not getting what they need or deserve. Parents are not getting what they need. The people in charge should feel ashamed.”

One support staff member told us of a “lack of quality staff and massive increase in demand for services in all areas. I have worked in SEND for 27 years and not experienced anything like this. I actually despair at how we will continue to cope with the rising demand.”

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Daniel Kebede, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“It is shameful that the Government has done so little to help schools and local authorities in meeting the challenge of increased SEND need.

“The crisis in SEND funding has gone on for too long. It weighs heavily on schools that want to help but are stretched to the limit. We are seeing children spending too much of their journey through the school system without the support they need.

“Teachers and leaders are losing faith in a system that should meet need, but either can’t or won’t. Local authorities are forced to ration support to parents after a long wait and this rationing is driving up the number of tribunals.

“Undiagnosed SEND or unmet SEND need is frequently related to exclusions, and this will often come down to a lack of proper support. It is in the interests of everyone in the school community and Government to resource SEND well and ensure that children’s engagement is not jeopardised simply because of cuts.

“We need to see timely access to support and a much more flexible curriculum, in order that students flourish in a well-resourced learning environment. All of that starts with a major funding commitment from Government.”

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