EHCP MADNESS!

My youngest boy was diagnosed with Autism in Feb of this year.  He is average in attainment but struggles massively with understanding social situations and regulating behaviour and emotions appropriately.  This creates a massive barrier to learning for him and puts him at a significant disadvantage to his peers.  Since his diagnosis, I have been fighting to get him an EHCP so he can get the extra help he needs to be successful and happy at school.  It’s been an absolute nightmare and the result is that I am now going to tribunal to get my son the support he needs.  School and the LA have not been able to support me whatsoever because of these cuts and it’s just disgusting.  My little boy deserves an equal opportunity to an education just like any other neuro typical child – he is a bright special boy and could just be an AMAZING adult, just like so many autistic people.  We are currently putting further and unnecessary obstacles in his path due to the austerity that this government is inflicting on our society’s most vulnerable people.  I refuse to sit back and watch my little boy’s mental health and well being, as well as his future, deplete in this way.  I will NOT have it and will NOT rest until my boy is supported appropriately….quite possibly at the risk of my own sanity as the stress of this fight is just so overwhelming for parents, carers and all the families of SEN children.  It’s not right, just or acceptable and this current government should be ashamed of this disgraceful, discriminatory behaviour.

More teaching hours, less planning time, less marking time

I am a teacher in a Sixth Form College. Over the last few years, the number of full time teaching hours per week has increased from 21 to nearly 26 hours. Out of a 30-hour College week, this means many staff working from 8.40 to 4.10pm with only lunch breaks, which are inevitably taken up with preparing lessons, moving resources etc.

The increase in hours is directly attributable to the huge cuts in Post-16 education. The increase in hours means as teachers we now have to do nearly all our planning and marking out of school time. The marking load in Post-16 is huge, as you can imagine A Level students write long essays! The end outcomes of these cuts result in one or more of these:

a) Teachers make short cuts in marking and planning, resulting in less well prepared lessons and less formal feedback for the students

b) Teachers work for 3+hours per night outside of College

c) Teachers work part-time hours and plan/mark on their ‘days off’

d) Teachers leave the profession

With rising mental health problems in teenagers, we need more time to nurture these students, not less. In my neediest GCSE retake classes with students with all sorts of SEN issues, there is hardly ever a teaching assistant. Students who are making transitions from PRUs back into mainstream education are expected to cope with the demands of independent BTEC learning with no in-class support, as there is no money to provide this support.

Teachers are leaving in droves, and never because of the teaching.

Spread Too Thin

I am a qualified teacher but have worked as a Teaching Assistant for the past three years in a mainstream primary. The biggest impact I have felt is the effect of cuts on the children’s experience and learning support. We no longer have specialist music or MFL provision, and the school counsellor, who used to come weekly to our school has had to go too. We are thin on the ground on MDSA’s and any illness or absence impacts hugely on how we are able to support children.   We have access to a field we share with another school, which we cannot use regularly at lunchtimes simply because we don’t have enough staff to spread the children across multiple locations at break.
Our school is unique (it seems) in that it has not had to make any cuts to in-class support staff this year, but this has come at a price.  And our leadership team has made it clear they are doing all they can to prevent that from happening, but cannot sustain this long-term. We have a mixed-ability intake with a high level of SEND, and extra funding for this support is sparse and hard to get. The journey families and schools go on to get the minimal amount of extra funding is convoluted and often unfruitful – assessments are denied, support services such as CAMHS and BHISS are grossly understaffed and underfunded, and even getting the professional advice required can take weeks if not months.
As a result, any existing TA support is driven to high-need children, with the vast majority of kids with ‘regular levels of difficulty’ often having to fend for themselves. Teachers and support staff often go beyond the remit of their jobs and contracted hours to meet children’s needs, and we are eternally juggling who gets the support and who doesn’t. It is often a heartbreaking exercise of sharing insufficient provision, knowing that you will simply not be able to help everyone who needs it.

Resources are limited to the bare minimum now. Apart from the narrowing of the UKS2 curriculum due to the results-driven syllabus, there is the element of lack of funds to provide the students with enrichment experiences, art and science equipment, topic resources and musical instruments.

It cannot go on.

Squeezed budgets are driving experienced teachers out of the classroom

Cuts are forcing teachers out of the classroom: sparking a reliance on expensive consultants for expertise and endless rounds of recruitment.

We often hear of the teacher recruitment crisis, but that’s putting the cart before the horse. The real issue is retention. Until that’s been addressed, what’s the point of recruiting, only for teachers to leave? Squeezed budgets are leading to the loss of support staff – from teaching assistants to admin support – and swelling class sizes. This is adding to an already punishing workload, putting even more pressure on teachers who are already struggling to cope.

I’ve been concerned about the loss of experience from the classroom, and schools are increasingly shunning experience by advertising jobs specifically for newly or recently qualified staff, or for teachers on the main pay scale only. Some are saving money by ‘encouraging’ – in some cases by unethical means – experienced teachers to leave.  Obviously schools then have to mitigate the loss of accrued knowledge and expertise, perhaps by turning to expensive ‘consultants’ or adding to the ranks of ‘advisors’. It’s also a false economy in the sense that in the current climate recently qualified teachers are more likely to leave teaching altogether, meaning another expensive recruitment process.

Hidden scandal of the erosion of SEND services

What follows is a personal story, but I am writing it is an illustration of what is happening in SEND services across the land. Last September I retired after 32 years of being a teacher, mostly in Local Authority SEND support services and special facilities. I took early retirement at 55 because I couldn’t tolerate the stress of working twice the number of contracted hours that I was supposed to work, due to absurd workload, and the stress of feeling that I was failing vulnerable children and their families.

This workload increase, and reduced provision for children, was caused by covering the work of other people whose posts had been “deleted” in response to government cuts (the loss of the Revenue Support Grant and the real terms diminution of the High Needs Block which LAs receive to pay for SEND services, special schools and EHCPs).

To make it worse, most LAs SEND support services have been marketised: schools have to pay for them – but from nothing!  With schools having ever reducing budgets they stop purchasing LA services, then more cuts are made to services, and teachers workloads increase, and the services to children and parents decline; and then the remaining services are deemed to be of little help by schools and parents, because they don’t have enough staff to do a good job any more.

This is happening across the land  – SEND services evaporating everywhere – and on the whole only the parents of children effected and the teachers in those services really know the size of the cuts and the size of workload the remaining teachers face.

Reliance on parental contributions – but it’s not enough!

Commencing school year 2017/18 the school introduced a “voluntary donations” option for parents to make contributions as a direct consequence of budget cuts. At the same time they introduced a mandatory “school fund” payment of £25 for all parents (payable in one lump sum for whole school year or termly) for the same reason (offsite trips are charged in addition). Recently the swimming pool has been closed and swimming lessons ceased due to the repair, maintenance and on-going costs being prohibitive to on-going use (despite parental contributions to lessons). School trips have come close to being cancelled as they are no longer viable unless all parents contribute. Parents via the PTA have taken responsibility for maintaining and improving the playground (resources, planting, painting etc).

Science GCSE students being failed

My daughter and her science class, which are due to take the 3 GCSE individual sciences have been let down by not having a consistent science teacher for the last 2 years. The teacher was ill but the achool did not provide a qualified science teacher to replace her so science was not taught. They now have a new teacher, once the previous teacher left but htis new teacher has only 2 terms to cover 3 science GCSE curriculums. The ‘struggle’ that the children and the teacher have are shown in their PPE results, where although the students were targeted to get 7/8 grades, most got 4/5 grades. These students worked hard to be chosen to take the 3 GCSEs in year 9 and many want to continue with science in the future. The new teacher came in to teaching from a scientific career as she wants to get more people, specifically women into science and she has been giving alot of extra time to the students.

The rumour is that the school could not afford to replace the teacher while the previous teacher was signed off ill.

The teacher has also commented that the text books are not complete for the science curriculums.

Cuts, cuts and more cuts

Swimming pool has been closed as on-going and repair costs prohibitive, despite parental contributions.

Trips close to being cancelled as can only go ahead if all parents contribute, previously contributions were voluntary, now compulsory. Additional voluntary donations accepted.

Governors asked school to undertake staffing review, many staff voluntarily resigned, retired or taking redundancy. Reorganisation and reduction of remaining staff.

Staff leaving and not being replaced.

Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) covering teacher planning time and sickness absence, avoiding use of supply teachers where possible

Planned purchases for resources have been cancelled, PTA asked to fund if possible.

Caretakers had cleaning added to their duties.

If key stage 1 (KS1) teaching assistants (TA) absent no cover provided.

Printing and photocopying budgets restricted.

Resources in classrooms running low, e.g. glue sticks, pencils, whiteboard markers, pens….limited resources in the playground (lots of what’s being used looking shabby).

PTA paying for fun learning events for children that the school can no longer afford – pirate day, street dance day, zoo lab, Christmas party entertainers and many classroom games, books, toys and resources.

School Counselling Cuts

My eldest boy struggles with anxiety. In year 1 he was referred for school
counselling to help him manage his anxiety and emotions. The waiting list was 6 weeks but he was allocated a slot & received 6 sessions of art therapy with a
brilliant school counsellor who came into the school once a week & spent the day seeing children. She helped him greatly & showed him ways to deal with his anxiety.

Fast-forward several years. He’s now in Year 4 & despite having his ups & downs has progressed well through school, still loving his art & using it as a form of relaxation. However around October last year something changed & his anxiety became so bad he developed insomnia. We tried everything we could think of to help him (meeting with his teachers, relaxation techniques etc.) but to no avail. It was a tough time for us all. I enquired with the school as to whether he could be referred for more school counselling. The response was that the waiting list was very long & he wouldn’t be considered high need enough. I later found out that the reason for this was because they’d had to cut the school counselling hours by half to help make up the funding shortfall.

Fortunately we were able to pay for him to have private art therapy sessions.
Other families though are not in a position to be able to do this. It is therefore a
greater tragedy that a child struggling with their social emotional well being,
either at school or home, is limited in the support they receive due to a funding
shortfall, especially as an expanding body of evidence highlights that people do better in life when mental health problems and related disorders are tackled early.