NEU teachers’ union votes to build inclusive mainstream education for children and young people with SEND

Editorial: Notes about the SEND motions at the 2021 NEU Conference

NEU teachers' union votes to build inclusive mainstream education for children and young people with SEND

Last Thursday (8th April 2021) the largest education union in the UK, the National Education Union voted, with only one abstention and none against, to build a broad-based campaign to address disability in schools in England and Wales for both students and staff. As well as the MD of World of Inclusion, I am the current Equality Officer in the NEU Hackney District, and moved the motion on behalf of the Disabled Members’ Conference.

I believe this is a great day for the NEU, disabled people, parents of disabled students, and education in general, to achieve unity on such a wide-ranging motion. Clearly, a range of Government policies on curriculum, assessment, privatisation, real-term funding cuts, disproportionate exclusion rates, and failure to implement disability equality duties under the Equalities Act, has meant that disabled children and young people have been let down by the mainstream school system. These outcomes, when combined with race and poverty, have led to multiple failures.

Meanwhile, the growth in local authorities placing disabled children in expensive independent schools is causing a great financial strain on LA budgets. 

The Conference agreed to, "build a widespread campaign for better treatment of disabled staff and students and to achieve a well-resourced mainstream inclusive education system, sufficiently funded and trained staff, where all can thrive”.

The motion was strengthened by an amendment from Colleen Johnson, Executive Member representing Disabled Members, to develop a framework of disability equality to challenge stereotypes, negative attitudes and feed into the curriculum and for this to have a high profile launch.

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Addressing the crisis of disability equality in schools

On Friday 9th April, in a near-unanimous vote, the NEU also adopted a strongly-worded motion on SEND Funding and Mental Health from Stockton and Durham, prioritised by many districts across the country. The motion reproduced below notes the bleak position on SEND budgets of local authorities at breaking point and schools struggling to fulfil their commitments to children and students with SEND under the Code of Practice. Schools have no specific funding allocated to them for students with SEND, with more inclusive schools penalised.

For many of these students, COVID-19  has disadvantaged them further. Real-terms cuts have disproportionately hit support staff and are undermining schools’ abilities to meet SEND and mental health. High needs funding is insufficient, leading to top-slicing of schools’ budgets with Education Health and Care Plans (if eventually agreed) not automatically leading to the funding required to meet needs. 

An immediate funding increase urged

The motion then instructed the National Executive to urge the government for an immediate increase in funding to all schools and colleges and to ensure sufficient trained therapists and professionals are available to support all those needs. It called for an evidence-based review of higher needs funding to support all with SEND and mental health needs; to ensure support for members, parents and other campaigns for proper SEND funding, to campaign for the further development of good SEND provision in mainstream and alternate provision; and that all EHCPs are properly funded with an end to the transfer of funding from one "block" to another, by properly funding all SEND and mental health needs. 

A successful amendment moved by Emma Parker from Durham set up a SEND organising forum, and highlighted the underfunding of post-18 students with EHC Plans, so preventing them from achieving their legal entitlements to training and education up to their 25th birthday.

The National Education Union now has a full range of coherent policies to support SEND and disabled students, which can lead to the development of a progressive, egalitarian and inclusive education system capable of meeting the needs of all our students

Policy on SEND and Mental Health

These two progressive policy outcomes, together with successful motions for a moratorium on exclusions, especially for black students and those with SEND (interpreted by the General Secretaries of NEU to be for all students apart from those accused of serious violence to staff/students or sexual harassment), means adequate training and support to prevent exclusions and revision to a broader-based child-friendly curriculum more recognising of diversity. It means replacing narrow league tables and tests with teacher assessment, replacing Ofsted and the replacement of GCSEs and A-Levels with more flexible assessment suited to a wider variety of students.

The National Education Union now has a full range of coherent policies to support SEND and disabled students, which can lead to the development of a progressive, egalitarian and inclusive education system capable of meeting the needs of all our students. All of the government's narrow education policies were challenged at the NEU Conference. Implementation of the above alternatives would remove the barriers that are increasingly making our mainstream schools uninhabitable to children and young people with SEND.

Now we have to build a broad based campaign with parents, other unions and the community to get a fully funded and inclusive education system where all children and students can thrive. The publication of the Green Paper on the SEND system in May will be a first opportunity to build this mass unity.

The NEU motion: Addressing the Crisis of Disability Equality in Our Schools

  1. With concern the unfavourable treatment of disabled staff during the Covid-19 pandemic, including failures to make reasonable adjustments for those at high risk of infection. This treatment reflects an ongoing failure to eliminate discrimination and harassment against disabled staff.
  2. Schools are generally failing to observe the General Equality Duty towards disabled staff and pupils required by Section 149 of the Equality Act, where Responsible Bodies need due regard to i.e. eliminating discrimination and harassment of disabled staff and pupils in all decision making.
  3. The failure of many schools to provide effective education to pupils with SEND, often blaming the pupil for the school’s and Government’s systemic failures. In particular, the disproportionate exclusion of pupils with SEND, off-rolling, insufficient differentiation of curriculum and assessment. While we note the education legislation maintains a presumption of inclusion, to which the Union is also committed; the reality is high levels of disablist bullying, increasingly schools saying ‘they cannot meet need’ and the building of new special schools, growth in the proportion of SEND pupils attending special schools/alternative provision, while SEND budgets in real terms are reduced.
  4. The recent report from ALLFIE, showing schools are largely failing to have effective statutory Access Plans (Schedule 10 Equality Act). They are inadequate, often not annually reviewed, consulted upon with pupils and parents, containing information on improving access to the curriculum, not removing physical and information barriers for disabled pupils at the school.

Conference instructs the Executive to: -

a) Campaign to collectivise the treatment of disabled staff and change school culture to support them.
b) Build with unions, parents and disabled people’s organisations a campaign for a properly funded inclusive education system, to achieve adequate SEND funding, large scale staff training on inclusive pedagogy, a curtailing of normative testing, revision of curriculum and assessment and accessible schools, so disabled pupils and others can thrive.
c) Mount a high-profile NEU campaign to achieve disability equality for staff and pupils in all our schools.
d) Create a Disability Equality Framework that enriches the curriculum by challenging both negative attitudes and stereotypes.
e) Provide a well -advertised national launch event for the framework, that involves Disabled members, with regional events to follow which promote the framework by illustrating good practice".

Carried as amended National Education Union Conference Thursday 8th April 2021, 837 For 0 Against 1 Abstention

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Conference notes: SEND Funding and Mental Health (Composite)

  1. The picture facing schools and colleges supporting students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) is bleak, with budgets at breaking point and severe cuts to health and social care provision.
  2. Schools are struggling to meet the needs of our most vulnerable pupils and the lack of sufficient funding and a more coherent approach are rendering the SEND code of practice is nothing more than an empty promise from government to parents and students.
  3. One million of the recognised 1.28 million students with SEND do not have any additional funding afforded to them, and therefore the financial burden of additional support penalises those schools that are the most inclusive.
  4. Students across the UK have also had their lives turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic and have had to adjust to dramatic changes in their education, routine and home life. Some have experienced bereavement or other traumatic experiences during the lockdown, while groups who were already marginalised or disadvantaged are now likely to become more so.
  5. The real-terms cuts to mainstream funding have led to cuts in learning and pastoral support staff and access to specialist support, which is undermining the ability of schools to support their students with SEND and mental health and is failing our students.
  6. Conference notes that High Needs Funding is insufficient for the number of, and needs of, children with SEND.
  7. Conference further notes that school budgets continue to be top sliced, through local Schools Forum agreements, in order to make up the shortfall in the High Needs Funding block. This takes much needed funding from one already underfunded block to support another.
  8. Conference understands that even if a child has an Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP), the school or college they attend may not automatically be given the funded needed to support the child. An additional application is sometimes needed to obtain High Needs Funding.

Conference instructs the Executive to urge the government to:

(i) Work with the Union to undertake a full, evidence-based review of current and future demand for high needs funding to support students with SEND, and of the real cost of supporting students with SEND and those with mental health concerns
(ii) Agree an immediate increase in funding to all schools and colleges
(iii) Ensure that there are sufficient trained therapists and professionals available to support SEND and mental health needs of students.

Conference further instructs the Executive to:

a. Undertake a survey of members, to ascertain the situation of SEND students and those experiencing mental health issues.
b. Support members, parents and others campaigning for proper funding and support for SEND students and those experiencing mental health issues
c. Conduct an enquiry as to how much money has been transferred from school budgets to support High Needs funding.
d. Campaign for the further development of good SEND provision, both in mainstream and in alternative settings.
e. Call for EHCPs to automatically come with the required level of funding needed to properly support a child with SEND.
f. Continue to campaign for properly funded school and college budgets, including proper High Needs funding, to ensure budgets are no longer transferred from one block to another, allowing funding to be used for its intended purpose.
g. Set up a SEND organising forum for members in Specialist, alternative provisions and those who support SEND students where they can meet virtually on a termly basis to discuss issues arising and organise activist and community-based campaigns.
h. Highlight the inequalities older students and families are facing around benefits and access to educational provisions. EHCPs are for students 0-25 Years old however many families are unable to access support and provisions once they reach 18”.

Carried  801 For  6 Against , 1 abstention 

Richard Rieser

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