Thousands of SEND pupils fighting for spaces in special schools

Rachel Hood head shot

Conservative cabinet member for education at Suffolk County Council, Rachel Hood. - Credit: Simon Lee Photography Suffolk UK

Nearly 6,000 school children in Suffolk currently have a health and care plan to identify what support they need to help with their special educational needs.

However, a further 12,000 pupils have special educational needs which do not require a education health and care plan (EHCP).

Currently, just  2,000 places exist at either special schools or specialist units for those with more complex needs. While only pupils on EHCPs can gain a special school place and many can be taught in mainstream schools, the figures mean that thousands of pupils are competing for just a small pool of places.

The number of youngsters on EHCPs alone has nearly doubled from the 3,000 in 2014 on what were then called Statements of SEND.

Rachel Hood, Conservative cabinet member for education, said: “I am committed to making sure that all children receive the right education in the right setting.

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“Of course, there are challenges with this, particularly as the number of children who need specialist education provision continues to grow. However, we have plans in place to make sure that we continue to respond to and work hard to meet this demand.”

The council has embarked on a mammoth £45million investment programme to create 870 new SEND places – 210 of which opened last year with a further 310 opening this academic year.

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That has included new special schools such as Castle East in Bungay, and three planned for 2022 – two in Bury St Edmunds and one in Ipswich.

The first phase of the capital programme will see 789 places completed by September 2023, with the remainder following once a review has been completed.

The council has said it will “refresh the sufficiency strategy to ensure we are aware of future demand,” expected to begin in spring next year.

Comparison data from the Department for Education for 2020 indicates that Suffolk is broadly in line with neighbouring counties, and demand on SEND places remains a national one.

Penny Otton

Penny Otton, from the Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group, said it demonstrated that the Government needs to up its investment in Suffolk - Credit: SCC GLDI GROUP

Penny Otton, from the Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group, said it demonstrated that the Government needs to up its investment in Suffolk.

“Suffolk has one of the lowest government grants for education in the country. I feel so sorry for those parents and children that are having to struggle and fight for their rightful place for a child with special needs.”

Work by a dedicated cross-party task force completed in January 2019 recommended a major investment programme of SEND places included an annual review if provision, but fears have been raised that this is not happening quickly enough – particularly with the long lead time between identifying need and school places being available.

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