Education professionals and the ‘institutional lie’ about cuts
Amelia McLoughlan, ALLFIE’s Policy and Research Officer, and Joe Whittaker, ALLFIE Trustee, look at the role of education professionals involved in the Education, Health and Care Plans process, and highlight how UK government education cuts are failing SEND learners – including from a human rights perspective under United Nations law.
Financial pressure on schools
Parliamentary research documents 12 years of cuts in public expenditure, with a clear decline recorded from 2012. Despite a spending increase between 2020-2021, the consequences of cuts continue to have real, damaging implications to the educational outcomes of Disabled people. While this is acknowledged by professionals in private settings, there is a reluctance to speak out publicly, and in order to effect change.
The legacy of continued financial pressure on schools has led to an increasing gap between funding they receive to meet the needs of pupils labelled with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND), and the costs of delivering this provision. Government spending for pupils labelled with SEND has been reported to be ‘inadequate, with the Education Select Committee similarly concluding that: “There is simply not enough money in the system to provide for the scale of demand”
SEND law and policy: Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs)
By law, children are entitled to educational support that meets their individual needs. Despite the cuts, Local Authorities maintain they are meeting their legal obligation to the EHCP process, namely stated in the legislation as:
“consider how best to achieve the outcomes for the child.”
This legal requirement often places professionals in the position of being unwilling/unable to indicate the adverse consequences of cuts in expenditure to Disabled students. Given an increase in complaints from parents being reported by Special Needs Jungle, there seems to be a growing trend to divert responsibility and accountability for the lack of progress made on meeting student’s needs onto parents.
The ‘lie’ about cuts
Local Authorities and professionals therefore continue to perpetuate the lie; that services have not been reduced to individual students. That services provided are informed by need, which is the requirement, and not determined by dwindling resources, as the financial reality demonstrates.
Further to this point, Schools Week reported in March 2021 that Councils in deficit have been told by the Government to find SEND savings in exchange for £100m of overall financial bailouts, despite a supposed funding increase.
This targeted approach to SEND funding seems to be supported by the Government guidance given to Councils in deficit, which has a template to monitor how funding is being spent and gives direction for them to highlight areas where local authorities may wish to review spending in evidence to demonstrate financial management by reducing their deficit.
The consequence of this Government’s failure in policy to ring-fence and protect SEND funding, particularly in mainstream settings, is that this funding is targeted for cuts, which is somewhat inconsistent with publicly made commitments and further paints the picture. As the National Education Union, the national body for teaching states:
“The Government is failing children with special educational needs and disabilities. Without adequate high needs funding, thousands of children are losing out on a proper education and the support they need to learn.”
However, the Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) do not exist solely in an educational space, but rather bring together professionals from education, health and social care in an attempt to give a holistic overview of a student’s needs. While this is based on an ideal scenario, it often results in disjointed and disconnected services and support in practice.
Research shows that there is a culture against professionals engaging in collaboration due to a lack of experience of collaboration during professional training– that is to say, professionals train only within groups of their specific professions and not in a collective manner. This often leads to parents and Disabled students becoming the coordinating factor between different professionals, as they navigate and mediate conflict within an ineffective support framework.
In contrast, the tendency of professionals to shift accountability onto parents can result in their child’s needs being seen as an exaggeration, the focus of assessments and or any subsequent investigations being focused on the parent, the ‘creation’ of difficult needs by parenting and a collective professional narrative being formed in opposition to addressing a student’s needs which block educational access and opportunities.
While the legislation within the Children and Families Act 2014 maintains that students without a EHCP must be educated in a mainstream school (offering very limited exceptions) and those with a EHCP must be educated within a mainstream school if the student/parent wishes it, the context of funding and the subsequential performative attitudes employed by professions, to save face in the glare of legal responsibilities, have created an increased diversity of segregation, masquerading as choice.
In previous years, 280 million pounds had been allocated to increasing SEN places, improving facilities and that included the building of 35 new segregated ’special’ schools. While cost is only relevant during the EHCP assessment when comparing two suitable schools, data used by Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSEA) in their training, reveals that local authorities will operate a financial presumption that funding will equate to £6,000 per pupil labelled with SEN, while special school placements are base line funded to £10,000 per child. Meaning that a larger proportion of funding is being invested into segregated provision than into more inclusive mainstream support. IPSEA training data also suggests that Local Authorities make savings from residential placements in terms of respite and direct payments. This demonstrates how educational placement has not only an academic impact but also if and how a Disabled student is able to access their community and independent living that is within their own control.
Education Other Than Schools (EOTAS)
This systematic move to increased segregation is seen in not just the increase in better recognised specialist segregated provision, but also in the increase in Education Other Than School (EOTAS) – a specific legal provision allowed for the education of children and young people, for whom education in a school or post-16 institution has been deemed inappropriate. EOTAS is not Elective Home Education, but is the legal mechanism whereby a Disabled student with an EHC Plan can receive special educational provision and under a formal EOTAS arrangement, is not required to be on the roll of, or in attendance at, a “traditional” educational setting. Instead, they will receive their education and special educational provision either at home, or in some circumstances, within an external setting that is not a registered educational setting.
While these figures are not available from the UK government centrally, the figures for Wales state that there are 1,814 EOTAS pupils mainly educated outside school. That is 3.8 of every 1,000 pupils in Wales, which is up from 2.1 of every 1,000 pupils in 2009/10. The number of EOTAS pupils mainly educated outside school appears to be trending upwards, having nearly doubled proportionately since 2009/10. The percentage of EOTAS pupils mainly educated outside school is 80.5%, up from 42% in 2009/10. While EHCPs are still in place for students subject to EOTAS, there is confusion on access to healthcare and support services and little data on how this impacts community inclusion, social development and a student’s sense of self.
International law: UNCRPD
Our current educational framework is not in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) on inclusive education, whose guiding principles include respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons. There is a lack of full and effective participation and inclusion in society, equality of opportunity and respect for the evolving capacities of Disabled children, alongside respect for the right of Disabled children to preserve their identities. Article 24 (on inclusive education) states that Disabled people should not be excluded from the general education system, and Disabled people can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live.
The UN Convention is holistic and written from an intersectional position that centres Disabled people as autonomous individuals with equitable access to all aspects of their lives. The current Government’s failure to implement this into UK law is not only failing Disabled people’s educational outcomes, but is also fundamental to the limiting of Disabled people’s human rights and our access to society.