The UK education system is failing children with special educational needs

A recent survey has found that there has been a 57% increase in children with special educational needs being home-schooled.

Jaynee Postlethwait (right), volunteer, works on arts and crafts with Deven (middle) and Branden Crane (left) Sept. 29, 2012, during the Special Needs Fair at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. The event introduced families and children with special needs to resources and other families in similar situations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mr. Sean Bhakta/Released)

The reasons for this are manifold: too few places in schools, too few inclusive schools, schools that don’t know what to do with a special needs child and a nationwide trend of not upholding the rights of disabled people.

A recent report by the UN committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has reprimanded the UK government for not upholding the needs of disabled people to live, work and contribute in a society without discrimination.

Clearly, this is a bigger problem than just meeting the needs of SEND children in schools. However, as someone who finds herself tutoring more and more children whose needs are not being addressed in education, I find myself wondering if schools are not the best place to start addressing this societal inequality.

Not enough places in schools


According to the Local Government Association (LGA), students with special needs are being turned away from underfunded schools. Students are being sent to specialist, segregated schools or moving to independent schools instead.

Don’t think that once your child has entered the school system successfully, they are guaranteed a place in middle school, however. One in five special needs children in primary school are being left without a place in secondary schools.

One of the main reasons for this is underfunding for special needs. The high needs education budget increase of £2.6 billion by 2019-2020 might sound like a lot, but it is not enough for the backlog and increasing number of children being diagnosed with SEND requirements every year.

Just getting a place in school does not mean that your child will do well, unfortunately.

Not enough expertise in schools

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Even when schools do take in SEND children, they do not have the processes and expertise to give these students the help they need. This is especially true in English counties.

According to the Children and Families Act 2014, all children who require it must receive an Education & Health Care Plan by 1 April 2018. However, some Local Government Authorities have admitted that upto three quarters of the children in their care have not been transferred onto plans. In Sunderland, 78% of students who needed such a plan did not receive one in time.

The good news is that these figures, horrendous though they might seem, are lower than for last year. This is a worrying trend, though, make no mistake.

One of the things that are vitally important for children who have needs is that changes must be planned in advance and the transition carefully thought out. If there is uncertainty, or a lack of understanding, it puts vulnerable children and their families through tremendous stress and anxiety.

This, again, is not us serving our children in the way we know they should be served.

Segregation and SEND children

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One of the major ways in which the UK government has fallen behind in its commitment to SEND children, is by supporting segregation in its schooling system.

The UN Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) includes Article 24: A Right to Inclusive Education in the mainstream classroom, with appropriate support. However, the UK government placed restrictions on their adoption of this article. The first change makes segregated education part of the general education system of the UK. The second change allows the government to send special needs students to segregated schools outside their local government boundaries.

It is disheartening to learn that the UK is only one of two countries to have made such changes in its acceptance of Article 24. The other is Mauritius.

What more can prove that the government is dismally failing its special needs and disabled children?


As a tutor, I understand the need for specialised schools. Sometimes, children have severe emotional, mental and physical needs, and it is in their best interests to be in an environment that can give them the best resources and chances for success.

The key word here is ‘severe’. For most children with SEND requirements, a bit of differentiation and special needs support is all that is required for them to blend completely into a mainstream classroom with success.

However, we should not only be thinking of the impact on children with special needs. It is equally important to note that the presence of SEND students in a classroom benefits the other children as well. We are a society full of colours and capabilities. Segregating SEND children does not allow for other students to benefit from the amazing diversity of abilities and accomplishments that an inclusive mainstream classroom allows.

Inclusive schools are the best way to ensure an inclusive society. It is truly the need of the moment.

Elisa x