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Councillors' comments on special needs school support shows lack of understanding in care needed for children

Education Concept
By George Esmond
19 March 2024

Last month, three Warwickshire councillors were accused of making offensive comments about children needing special education support.

At a meeting about the rising cost of council support, which had seen councillors discussing the county’s special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision in schools, three councillors made flippant and offensive comments about the rising rates of parents seeking support for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) that can affect a child or young person's ability to learn. 

At the meeting, one of the councillors asked if "something in the water" was increasing special needs cases, with another questioning whether the increase could be linked to social media sites where families were "swapping tips on how to their children were diagnosed." The third councillor, meanwhile, had questioned whether some children receiving funding were "just really badly behaved."

The comments have sparked fury with local parents and support groups and have since seen Warwickshire council agree to send elected members on training courses with the group Parent Carer Voice.

The incident has again reinforced the stark chasm in the understanding of what are, historically, still relatively new needs for children and the amount of support and funding a variety of stakeholders – children, parents, teachers and schools – need in order to best care for the safety and wellbeing of a child with special needs. 

In 2021, an Ofsted report found that children with special educational needs and disabilities face long delays and bureaucratic hurdles before getting extra support from local authorities in England.

Children with suspected ADHD and autism are waiting as long as seven years for treatment on the NHS, as the health service struggles to manage a surge in demand during a crisis in child mental health. Meanwhile, the watchdog found headteachers complaining that some pupils in mainstream schools waited up to five years for their education, health, and care (EHC) plans – making them eligible for additional support – to be approved by councils.

In total, 15% of children were classed as having SEND in 2023, increasing for the third year in a row to 1.37 million pupils at schools in England.


The report found that “inhumane” waits are putting a generation of neurodiverse children at risk of mental illness as they are “pushed to the back of a very long queue” for children and adolescent mental health services (Camhs).

What’s more apparent is the effect that the backlog is having in schools and on the mental health of our teachers. A 2023 study by the National Library of Medicine found that children with special needs behaviours and severe needs that remain in mainstream classrooms can create stress for teachers and negatively affect teacher–student interactions.

As the brother to a younger sister just starting out in her teaching career and spending several hours a day, in all weather conditions, attempting to coax a four-year-old with severe undiagnosed autism into a loud and bustling classroom of 30 children, I already worry how much more she has to give for the profession she desperately loves.

The findings highlight the disruptive nature of ADHD symptoms and their implications for teacher wellbeing. It emphasises the need for interventions that promote a balanced classroom environment and provide teachers with the necessary tools to manage the challenges associated with ADHD.

What’s more worrying is that things are going from bad to worse. The workforce survey by the Department for Education (DfE) in 2023 found that 40,000 teachers resigned from state schools last year – almost 9% of the teaching workforce, and the highest number since it began publishing the data in 2011.

The survey found that large numbers of teachers were missing because of illness. Almost 60 per cent of staff have considered leaving the sector in the past academic year due to pressures on their mental health and wellbeing. Overall, the survey found that teachers lost six minutes of every half hour in lessons because of dealing with misbehaviour.

There are a myriad of problems which need to be solved – from quicker diagnosis to providing better access to special schools. But a start would be ensuring elected officials - those who ultimately approve the funds for our schools - understand the importance that their decisions have on the success of a child’s upbringing and education.