Disabled pupils struggling to access specialist support in half of councils

Pupils with multi-sensory impairment cannot access specialist teachers in 52% of local authorities, report finds.

10 March 2022

Half of local authorities do not employ specialist teachers for pupils with both sight and hearing loss, a new survey has found.

In a report from the disability charity Sense, Freedom of Information requests revealed that 52% of councils do not employ any multi-sensory teachers for the nearly 4,000 pupils who have multi-sensory impairment (MSI).

Children with MSI have “unique educational needs”, the charity said, but its research showed that specialist teaching provision varies widely across the country. In the North West, 81% of areas do not have specialist MSI teachers, compared with 27% in the South East.

The charity is calling on the Government to create an education fund for children with multi-sensory impairment, with £34.3 million ring-fenced to improve access to support over the next five years.

Richard Kramer, chief executive of Sense, said: “Although they may experience many barriers, children with combined hearing and sight impairments are able to learn when they have the right specialist support in place.”

He added that “without the right support, children with unique educational needs, are often left out of and unable to participate in learning.

“As a result, they are less likely to achieve their potential and live independent lives in their communities in the future.”

Harry Johnson
Harry Johnson, eight, has struggled to access support at his new school (Handout/PA)

Sarah Johnson said that her son Harry, aged eight, who has MSI, initially received specialist support at his first school in Buckinghamshire, but that when the family moved to Bourne, Lincolnshire, she had to “fight” to access help for him through his Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

He no longer receives any one-to-one support, while an MSI teacher is only available to work with him six times a year.

She said that the support received in Buckinghamshire “made an incredible difference to Harry, helping him to learn vital skills, which has helped reduce frustration and behavioural issues.

“Since moving to Lincolnshire, we’ve had to fight to get Harry the support he’s now receiving, but it’s not enough and I worry about his development and how it will impact his future,” she added.

“How can the support be brilliant in one part county but not the other? These are children’s lives that are being messed with.”

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “This is yet further evidence of the immense pressures and strains councils and schools continue to face supporting children with sight and hearing loss as well as other pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.

“While it was good the Government recognised the pressures on SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) provision by providing funding in last year’s Spending Review, this underlines the need for the Government to urgently complete its ongoing review of the SEND system, and to further support the education of children with special educational needs and disabilities.

“This review needs to set out reforms that increase mainstream inclusion, provides councils and schools with long-term certainty of funding to meet the needs of all children with SEND, and gives councils the power to hold education and health partners to account if their provision for identifying and supporting children with SEND is not adequate.

“We also want the Government to work with councils to eliminate high needs block deficits.”

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