I’m as worried about the financial crisis in SEND funding as the next SENCo. I’m following my Twitter feed and the news and seeing the same things that we are all seeing – real terms funding for students with additional needs has dwindled to crisis point and it doesn’t look set to improve. No doubt, increased funding is absolutely necessary in order to ensure the best education… no, the safety, wellbeing and any education… for our SEND children and this sits within the wider context of a reduction in funding and resources for those with disabilities in adulthood and the crisis in the NHS. It is all very bleak. I saw, as I’m sure many reading this did, some head teacher speaking on the news saying that the last thing he’d want is to be turning SEND students away because the school can’t afford them. Afford them? What are schools for, if not for the children of their catchment? Are we now openly operating a two tier system? Why is SEND the subgroup of student it is so acceptable to discriminate against?
I agree that there’s a funding crisis. There’s a funding issue in education in general. But lack of funds is no more an excuse to not meet the needs of SEND students as it would be an excuse to not meet the needs of any student. You still have to do what a school’s supposed to do. Money isn’t the whole reason our schools aren’t inclusive and, as such, money would not solve the issue of poor inclusion in our schools. Money helps (when doesn’t it!?) but it isn’t the whole answer.
“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.”
The first step in meeting the needs of your SEND students is not money but to stop seeing them as something different to the rest of your students. As long as we see students with SEND as something different to students, children with disabilities as something different to children, and a group with different needs and rights to the rest of those we are teaching, we are discriminating against them. All children need the same things – safety, wellbeing, nurture, their best outcomes, adult success (whatever that my look like!). And all children have the same educational rights – to be taught by qualified teachers and access to an appropriate, quality, accountable and valued curriculum. The budget and resources of the school – however tight those things may be – need to be used to provide these things equitably to all of the students. We can’t use a label of ‘SEND’ as an excuse to exempt a child from any of this.
Actually, the lack of money being funnelled into SEND and adult disability provision is also because of this same issue. It’s systemic, societal and entrenched. How we treat SEND students throughout their education results in a) those children becoming adults who haven’t been given the best tools to be assertive, rights asserting adults and b) their non-SEND peers go on to perceive disability as ‘other’, someone else’s problem, and something that we use as an emotional crutch for ourselves as opposed to assuring proper societal equality and justice. Then they become the decision makers, funding deciders, employers and head teachers of the next generation and perpetuate the same approach.
There’s a cycle that needs to be broken here, but it won’t be broken by money alone… the lack of proper funding is just a symptom or product of the actual issue that needs to be fixed. In order for the policy makers and budget holders to make decisions that work for SEND children we need them to have grown up with an intrinsic understanding that this is needed and right. We need young people with SEND to grow up to hold power in their lives and be participants in that decision making process. We need to stop seeing some people as separate to the rest of society.
So, yes; I’m as worried about the financial crisis in SEND funding as the next SENCo. I wouldn’t be turning down additional funding to support SEND students, or any student for that matter! Money alone, though, isn’t the magic wand that will ensure true inclusion for our SEND students… but ensuring true inclusion for our SEND students through our attitudes towards disability, school culture, and having equality, equity and justice at the heart of our decision making might, eventually, solve the funding crisis.
“If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out!” Jonathan Winters