Are there reasons to be cheerful for the SEN resources market?

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An optimistic prognosis for the SEN resources market

It is an educational cliché to say that all children are special: they all have individual needs, and teachers spend their time finding and developing strategies to deal with these on a daily basis. However, one of the main issues with special educational needs (SEN) is that the term covers the entire spectrum, including physical disabilities, moderate learning difficulties, profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), emotional and social difficulties, and such diverse conditions as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

While many of these children are taught in special schools, the majority of those with SEN now receive the help they need from classroom teachers and support staff in mainstream schools. So how do busy classroom teachers deal with the demands of resourcing such individual and far-ranging needs?

Resourcing the system

The education policies of successive governments have been focused on helping all children realise their potential, and the intention has been to develop an education service that provides equality of opportunity and high achievement for all children. However, in order to achieve these aims, it is essential that schools use the right educational resources.

The latest research by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), Special Needs Resourcing in Schools (2011), gives an optimistic picture of the state of the SEN resources market, even in times of severe economic challenge.

The SEN market has always been an important one for both the industry and for end users. The SEN community – and it is a real community – has always been committed to providing the best possible education for all students, no matter what problems they may have. The fear was that in these challenging times, funding in real terms may be cut, as schools now have to deal with their own budgets. We have seen in the past that SEN funding has never been ring-fenced and research has shown that while schools may receive extra funding, this is not always spent on those pupils for whom it is intended.

In 2011, the research shows that an average primary school in England has a budget of £690 to spend on general SEN resources; a secondary school has something in the region of £1,840 to spend. This means that, on average, primary schools have £11.7 million to spend and secondary schools are budgeting £5.7 million for basic resources alone.

These resources can include anything to improve the classroom experience, including books and stationery of all kinds, interactive resources, creative materials and basic furniture and storage. Of course, these figures do not take into account special schools, with their own funding for 89,000 pupils, or pupils with statements of SEN in England who have their own specific funding. According to the Department for Education (DfE) there were 224,210 of these pupils in January 2011.

Sources of funding

And what of any other funding streams? The Pupil Premium is the major new funding stream, based on the Coalition Government’s election pledge to provide extra money for “disadvantaged” pupils, which will be worth £625 million alone in 2011-12 and will amount to £2.5 billion a year by 2014-15. As we all know, many of the pupils affected by “disadvantage” will also be those with some kind of additional educational need, so much of this “extra” money (over £430 per pupil) be available for them and can be spent in whatever way a school feels appropriate – although they will have to account for it in improved performance.

Devolved Formula Capital (DFC) funding has been affected by government cuts, but special schools will still be receiving twice as much per pupil as other schools – £33.75 per pupil plus £4,000 per school to spend on capital items such as furniture or ICT, both of which can have a major impact. Indeed, pupils with special needs often need specialist furniture and play equipment, and developments in ICT have also had a huge impact on the SEN community.

Often, SEN teachers and practitioners have taken new technology and embedded it in their practice before many of their mainstream counterparts. Computers are powerful learning tools for pupils with SEN, opening up the curriculum and engaging them in learning in a way that nothing else does. Colourful graphics and instant rewards motivate children. Touch screens allow them to draw when they cannot use a pencil, and word-processors that talk will comment on accuracy and allow for publication. Roller-ball mice enable many children with physical disabilities to access technology, and symbol software can help children to create stories even though they may be unable to form letters.

Large building projects through the previous Labour Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme are now, of course, gone. However, the Government has issued new capital funding for refurbishment and some new-build schools, some of which will be aimed at SEN. £1.3 billion will be given to LAs for “additional places problems” – in the primary sector mostly – and a further £1.4 billion for maintenance problems. In addition, there will be a privately-financed school building programme announced for schools in the worst condition, with £2 billion up-front construction costs. This will cover 100 to 300 schools, the first to open in 2014.

What’s more, special schools now have the ability to become academies, giving them the freedom to do what is best for their own pupils and be in control of their own budgets. So, all in all, despite the current economic gloom, the coming months and years might yet prove to be a very exciting time to be in special needs with major opportunities for resource suppliers.

Further information

Ray Barker is the Director of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), the trade association representing over 300 educational suppliers in the UK:
www.besa.org.uk

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