‘People need to know the truth’ – council blasted for ‘inadequate’ home-schooling system
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Education bosses are admitting some pupils with special needs are forced to stay at home due to a lack of specialist placements.
The admission comes after a former teacher and tutor, employed by the council for four decades before his retirement in July, told this newspaper “people need to know the truth” about the system.
Speaking under the condition he would remain anonymous, the ex-tutor said: “I am a professional so I can recognise that things are going seriously wrong.”
The council has strongly defended its policy, saying it “rejects the allegations that the offer made to young people is ‘inadequate’” – but acknowledged that some children were kept at home “for a longer period than we would ideally like”.
It also revealed that a new ‘alternative tuition’ scheme had been launched since April 2018, which aimed to “bring together the resources of the one-to-one service and the online service”.
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Just five hours of 121 per week
The former teacher claimed that many vulnerable young people are left behind as the council only funds five hours of at-home tutoring per week – equivalent to just one hour per day, or 20% of teaching time allocated to students at mainstream schools.
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He also criticised the council for assigning some students to online programmes, which he deemed insufficient.
In one case, he claimed a vulnerable teenage boy no longer had any one-on-one tutoring whatsoever – and was instead transferred to an online-only GCSE programme.
“He spent Year 10 medically unable to attend school because of psychological issues,” the ex-tutor said.
“He was out of school for 18 months before I took him on. He’s now been handed over to GCSE online so he has no tutor apart from online.
“I think communication from the council office is a major problem. I had a phone call from one of the tutors who was saying that he approached the council office for information about the student and had no response.”
He added that a “massive changeover” in staff had led to further complications.
“[It’s no good] having politicians glass over and come out with sentences that are difficult to follow indicating that something is going to be done about it,” he said. “At the end of the day the sentence doesn’t mean anything.”
The money is simply not there
The Ipswich-based educator was backed up by Graham White, spokesman for the Suffolk division of the National Education Union – who said the system was “inadequate to start with and is now even more inadequate”.
“There are pupils that become displaced because the curriculum doesn’t meet their needs,” Mr White said. “There are not enough places for them. The money is simply not there.”
He added: “We are massively underfunded. There are so few places for pupils, some are travelling two hours a day each way to get to and from school. To be in a taxi for two hours is just going to stress them out more.”
What does the council have to say?
Suffolk County Council (SCC) argued that bringing together resources of the one-to-one service and the online service in April “increased the offer available to any individual child,” however it acknowledged that some pupils are kept at home longer than is appropriate due to a lack of specialist placements.
A spokeswoman said: “We do have a small number of children who are receiving alternative tuition while awaiting a specialist education placement and in some cases the lack of placements does mean that children are receiving alternative tuition for a longer period than we would ideally like.
“The council has a plan to address this situation by creating more specialist education placements.”
When asked how this would be funded while children’s services in Suffolk is set to overspend by £4.9million by the end of this year, the council said: “Funding for specialist education placements comes from the Department for Education (DfE) High Needs Block grant which is part of the dedicated schools’ grant – this is separate from the core funding that the council spends on children’s care services.”
The council spokeswoman added that the five hours of tuition referred to by the ex-tutor can be part of a “wider package” that incorporates online learning and activities with alternative providers where appropriate.
Therefore, it argued this “intensive one-to-one tuition” cannot be considered in isolation.
The council also wholly rejected the notion that the offer made to young people is “inadequate” and said it did not recognise the ex-tutor’s allegations relating to poor communications.
Judith Mobbs, assistant director for inclusion and skills said: “Since April 2018 a new alternative tuition service has been established which has brought together our individual tuition and online service so that we can offer each pupil a bespoke programme of support.
“These programmes are tailored to individual students using a combination of individual tuition, online learning and individual activities with other alternative providers which can best meet the student’s needs, according to their age and personal circumstances.
This reorganisation has improved the service and is ensuring that pupils get a better education offer.”
When pressed on how “bespoke” services could be guaranteed with minimal one-to-one tutoring, and how exactly this new merger had improved the system, the council said: “Our online learning is not a single standard package – it includes a range of modules and programmes that can be combined in different ways to meet the needs of each individual child.
“The improvement comes from offering a blended learning model that combines a combination of one-to-one tuition and online learning – it’s not focused on saving time or money – but on better learning outcomes for children.”
What does the government have to say?
Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said on behalf of the DfE: “Our ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is exactly the same for every other child – to achieve well in school and college, find employment and go on to live happy and fulfilled lives.
“We have introduced Education Health and Care plans, putting families at the heart of the process and providing support tailored to individual needs.
“Local authorities and schools have statutory duties to support children and young people with SEND. In 2018-19 councils will receive £6 billion of funding specifically for children with complex special educational needs and disabilities, up from £5 billion in 2013.
“This funding includes £59.9 million of high needs funding in Suffolk and £135.8 million in Essex. However, we recognise that local authorities are facing cost pressures on high needs.
“I assure you that we are monitoring local authority spending decisions and are keeping the overall level of funding under review.”
The news comes shortly after new data revealed one third of children with special needs could not get placements within their own county.
Of the 291 children referred for specialist placements by schools or other professionals for the 2018/19 year, 104 were either sent away or refused a place altogether.
When asked his thoughts on what could be done to combat the issue, Mr White recommended chasing MPs to call for more funding from central government.
“Special needs funding is inadequate,” he said. “The authority are in a difficult situation because they haven’t got the money to do it.
“Don’t home school your children unless you have the skills to do so, and put real pressure on the local authority – go through all the appeal mechanisms that you need. Talk to your MP – talk to anybody you possibly can.”
Case study: Parents and Carers Together (PACT)
The co-founder of a Suffolk charity supporting parents and carers of children with mental illnesses has claimed many families are “caught in the system” while waiting for appropriate placements.
Rebecca Jasper, from Parents and Carers Together (PACT), said many children’s mental health needs are not being met in their mainstream schools, meaning some are stuck at home – often facing school fines or even court summons.
“Attendance registers play a massive part in this as parents are asked for ‘proof’ of illness or disability,” she said. “As there are many barriers, including waiting lists and high criteria, to accessing tier three medical intervention from CAMHS psychologists and psychiatrists, parents are unable to get such evidence.”
She added: “Parents are very pressured into off-rolling their children when they have no option. This then means children are the responsibility of the parents and schools have no responsibility.
“Access to Education, Health and Care Plans (ECHPs) leading to alternative schools or provision can take years to achieve and then the spaces are few and far between.
“Many PACT parents are caught in this system whereby trying to protect the mental health and wellbeing of children, yet being expected to get them in to schools where they feel unsafe and unsupported or overwhelmed.”