Cuts in education and healthcare make headlines on a regular basis these days. Pictures of people marching with placards reading “say no to cuts” might come to mind, and it is so regular that we are becoming desensitised to it. My experiences as an HLTA, PGCE student, then an NQT have exposed me to some of the challenges reduced funding can have on SEND students and the teachers trying to support them.
I was working in a secondary school as a TA for years when the cuts started slowly creeping into our lives. It started with TAs losing their planning and preparation time, even though it was in their job description to plan together with teachers. This way, however, there could be a reduction of the number of TAs. I started noticing that when a highly paid senior staff member retired, they either weren’t replaced or if they were it was with almost certainly less experienced (therefore . cheaper) staff. Then came a reduction in the numbers of students on the SEND list on paper, when in reality the neediness of students had not decreased. I also saw the pastoral team slowly evaporate — first mentors disappearing, then support for behaviour dispersing — leaving it all to “the teachers’ strategies”. This mean that teachers ended up dealing with all the issues, on top of the increasing workload, leading to an adverse impact on all the children who need support the most.
During my PGCE placements, I hardly encountered any TAs in my classrooms — apparently the number of TAs had been drastically cut just the year before. In my NQT year I received TA support only in one class. In another class I had a couple of students who struggled with forming sentences and were not able to read without support — while other students could already tackle problems some year 11s couldn’t do — yet I was completely on my own with them.
In another class I had a student with social, emotional and behavioural challenges, who caused so much disruption that she had to be removed from most lessons. On the rare occasion when I had temporary support in the classroom my colleague or myself were able to give this student that bit of extra attention which was enough to keep her in the class without disrupting peers. In some cases I see children who are on the borderline, perhaps not quite a SEND student as such, but for one reason or another they cannot cope with a full mainstream timetable. Whilst they should not be in a special school or a PRU, they would benefit from a reduced timetable with a combination of mainstream lessons and some small group sessions, including communication skills.
With increased pressure on schools to look for cost-saving initiatives, it’s often this type of much-needed support for our SEND students that is lost, with students and teachers then managing with the bare minimum of specialised assistance. I believe we need a dramatic shift to address funding available for SEND students and specifically an increased investment in the staff that are there to support them. The opportunity to have in class resources is fantastic, but should be second to the investment in teachers and teaching assistants that our SEND students so drastically need.
Lucy, School Success At Zen Educate
Zen Educate is working to make a difference in education recruitment, by offering a technology-enabled alternative to recruitment agencies. We know excessive recruitment agency fees are often consuming schools budgets, which is why we created an online platform that saves schools money on recruitment, in some cases up to £30,000 a year. Start finding great teachers near you while saving money for your school