Special needs education is often overlooked, but two recent events have thrust it into the spotlight.

First, a BBC investigation uncovered abuse at a Merseyside special school. Then, council leaders revealed a £1 billion funding shortfall for special needs places.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • 1.6 million children in the UK have special educational needs. That’s 17% of all pupils.
  • There are 1,500 approved special needs schools in the UK. Another 300+ mainstream schools have special needs units.
  • Almost 600,000 children have an Educational, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). That’s up 26% year on year.

The SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) Action Group says the system’s in crisis. And we can see why.

Caring for vulnerable children is tough. Their needs are complex. Quality staff are hard to find. And funding’s always tight when local authorities are strapped for cash.

Annual costs for special needs school places range from £10,000 to over £100,000. It’s not cheap.

And, there is no doubt that demand is growing.

When scandals hit, they can tarnish the whole sector. But that’s not fair on the committed staff doing great work every day.

The media’s right to expose wrongdoing, especially when those affected can’t speak up. But if special needs education only makes headlines when things go wrong, we’re not getting the full picture.

We need to change the narrative. Let’s talk about the sector’s successes. The challenges overcome. The lives changed for the better. The benefits to society.

At the same time, special needs schools need to get smart about protecting their reputation. That means spotting risks early and planning for crises. It’s as crucial as business continuity planning. Get it right, and you can limit the damage when things go wrong.

But that’s not enough. The sector’s big players need to step up. They need to shout about their achievements. Show the public and policymakers why special needs education matters. Make them understand why it needs proper funding.

There’s a new government on the way. A fresh batch of MPs about to enter Parliament. It’s time to bring this ‘Cinderella’ service into the spotlight. Let’s make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

Let’s chat crisis comms

Peter Davenport Screen

Written by Peter Davenport, Strategic Comms Consultant at Definition