Education system failing disabled children and those with special educational needs, say campaigners

  • Disabled children are not consistently provided with the education support they are entitled to by law. 

  • The Special Educational Consortium (SEC) calls on the next Government to rethink the education system with better accountability, investment, and listening to children and families. 

  • Priorities in the new SEC Manifesto include: 

    • Ensuring the education system is accountable for properly supporting disabled pupils as set out in legislation. 

    • Guaranteeing a long-term funding strategy that adequately meets the costs of supporting disabled children and those with special educational needs (SEN), including investment in the education and specialist workforce. 

    • Ensuring the education systems listens to, respects, and meaningfully involves children and families in policy and provision.  

  • The Special Educational Consortium is a group of over 40 voluntary and community sector organisations, education providers and professional associations that come together to protect and promote the rights of disabled children and young people and those with SEN. 

Leading campaigners are calling on the next Government for urgent action to put right an education system that is failing disabled children and those with additional and special educational needs (SEN) by not consistently providing the support they are entitled to by law (i)

In its new Manifesto Asks for the next General Election, SEC highlights how education providers urgently need greater accountability and investment, alongside closer involvement with children and families, to prevent young people suffering the long-term consequences of missing the learning opportunities they have a right to.  

The Manifesto, launched at an online event on 20 March, proposes a series of policies and three key priorities for the next Government that will enable all practitioners and educators to fulfil the duties set out for them in SEN and disability legislation.  

The Manifesto is based on evidence that shows thousands of students are without a school place that meets their needs, and disabled children and young people and those with SEN are disproportionately excluded from school (ii)

Chronic underfunding and lack of adequate resources play a significant factor, with real terms spending per pupil little better than 2010 levels. The overwhelming majority of school leaders say that funding for disabled pupils and those with SEN in their school is insufficient (iii), and only 18% of local authorities believe they have sufficient early years provision for disabled children and those with SEN (iv)

The proposed measures include putting in place a long-term funding strategy to meet children and young people’s needs and ensuring the voices of disabled children and young people and those with SEN are heard, respected, and considered in decision-making about both policy and provision. 

But a “cultural shift” is needed too that moves away from a system that predominantly measures success by exam results and moves towards one suitable for everyone to thrive.

At the moment, far too many desperate families are forced to go through the tribunal process to fight for their child’s rights to an education. Disabled children and young people, and those with SEN are disproportionately vulnerable to school exclusions, and disengagement from learning. People voting at the next election want to be sure that the next Government is serious about putting this right. If you are disabled or have a special educational need then you should be guaranteed an education that helps you meet your potential, but the current system falls far too short and requires systematic and cultural change. Our Manifesto sets out a pragmatic vision for policymakers to adopt in the run up to the next election, so that more children can thrive.

Dr Daniel Stavrou

Assistant Director, the National Children’s Bureau

The Manifesto is available here.