In November 2018, the Guardian discovered information requests and council reports indicating that funding for children with special needs in England has been cut in several districts. This is due to massive overspending on special needs programs, such as the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) program. Because of this increase in spending, councils across the nation are scrambling to find financial stability while also maintaining support for special needs students. So far, the Guardian has identified approximately forty councils who are either cutting funding, contemplating cutting funding, or using money from other education budgets to sustain themselves until a solution can be found.
This unfortunate incident has led to parents taking legal action against councils who are considering defunding or making cuts to SEND. This funding supports children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other disabilities.
The Guardian estimated that £315 million (approximately $354 million) from the education budget will be used to fill gaps in special needs funding by the end of the year. This increased spending for SEND funding draws from an increased need for special education programs, which benefit students across the nation. Reported data from 117 councils (out of 152) has identified that this spending rose from £61 million to £195 million from 2015-2018.
Cuts proposed in Bristol have been successfully challenged by parents, leading to similar campaigns in London and Surrey. Without proper funding for special needs education, children with special needs will face the difficult task of catching up to their peers. which can have a devastating impact on their learning. Government officials have suggested that it may be difficult to find funding, the children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi noting “local officials are facing cost pressures on high needs.”
In the UK, the main source of news is the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation, a public media organization. The BBC’s “Family and Education” category should logically include coverage of this story, but amid stories on tuition, bullying, and scholarly reports, we found nothing on the lack of funding for special education needs. A search across the entire site for terms such as “education”, “special education”, “education cuts”, and “special education cuts” also yielded no relevant coverage except for one report focused on a single county, Gloucestershire. US media has also failed to cover this story adequately, focusing instead on Brexit.
Chaminda Jayanetti and Michael Savage, “Devastating Cuts Hit Special Educational Needs”, The Guardian, November 10, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/nov/10/councils-face-crisis-special-needs-education-funding.
Student Researchers: Jessica Duane, Georgina Mensah, Julia Treon (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)