The cuts in schools are deep. Despite the government’s reassurance that funding is higher than ever, all headteachers in the state sector will tell you that there is a financial crisis with some schools warning they may have to make up to 20 staff redundant.
A small study on Twitter showed a higher percentage in both primary and secondary schools making Teaching Assistants (TAs) redundant. Interestingly, however, many schools said they were using ‘natural wastage’. This is when a member of staff leaves but no one hired to take over. In a previous school the headteacher warned staff in September that any member of staff leaving would not be replaced unless absolutely necessary.
Where does this leave our SEND learners? They may be negatively affected in a number of ways: larger class sizes, fewer TAs, a lack of interventions by experienced, specialist staff and less supervision around break times and lunchtimes. Such cuts may make negligible marks on a typically developing student but those with greater needs, in conjunction with more stressed and overworked staff may mean difficulties for a school who has not thought through their provision properly.
It may not all be bad news; Education Consultant Anita Devi says she has led TA redundancies as a SEN senior leader and through planning and sensitivity, cuts were strategic and the effects of SEND learners minimal. Are some schools cutting TAs as a first choice with little thought of its impact however? Is it a false economy or a wasted opportunity? Are we expecting an already overstretched teaching staff to take on more work? Is there capacity in an emergency? Schools require flexibility for intensive support of a student in the short term which would then be slowly reduced as things got better. Such slack in the system allows cover for illness and unforeseen circumstances.
Inclusion is not all about the money, much is linked to the culture of the school. Well thought through deployment of TAs, efficient systems and an inclusive provision is what works (see our free Drive for Literacy toolkit as an example); money does however fund provision which allows the required resources to be successful.
A systematic and thought out process in schools which won’t negatively affect our SEND learners is vital: do we value them as much as our other students? This small survey showed redundancies of TAs and natural wastage is happening in times of cuts. While this may not always be a bad thing as Anita Devi highlights, it should be part of a thorough decision- making process. SEND is suffering in mainstream schools, we know this through exclusion data, an increase in students with SEN being home educated and the appalling lack of progress students make in school. Learners with difficulties must not be affected disproportionately because they deserve better and good provision saves time, energy and cost in the long run.
Natural wastage seems an unsavoury phrase but a fitting one if the worst-case scenario emerges from it.