'Scandal' as children sent nearly 300 MILES to school - parents slam Suffolk's special needs provision
PUBLISHED: 06:29 12 February 2020 | UPDATED: 06:29 12 February 2020
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Nearly 200 children with special needs were attending school outside of Suffolk at the beginning of this year - at a cost of £10.6million.
One child was even sent 284 miles away - equivalent to travelling between Ipswich and Cornwall - we can reveal, as Suffolk County Council chiefs admitted there is not currently enough provision in the county to meet demand.
So what is happening?
In total, 186 children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) were listed as attending schools outside Suffolk as of January 7, 2020.
Some 40 youngsters were boarders - costing £3.1m so far in 2020/21 - while 146 were attending daily placements with a bill of £7.4m.
That comes to an average annual spend equivalent to £57,000 per child, with this money mainly being spent on transport costs.
Plans to pump £45m into creating hundreds of new SEND places in Suffolk were revealed last year - but some families fear that even with these new proposals, provision for those with autism and Asperger's syndrome will still be lacking, and fail to match their children's needs.
Lisa and Michael Read, who live in Great Blakenham, say there is no suitable special needs provision in Suffolk for their son Logan - adding that it's been a "nightmare" trying to fight for the right placement for him.
He now attends the Gretton School in Girton, near Cambridge - and travels there every weekday, at an average cost to the council of £800-£1,000 a week.
"It's been a nightmare and the journey time is very hard," his father Michael said.
"We've had a four-year battle to get the right placement for Logan, he has Asperger's and has been at mainstream schools in Suffolk which have really struggled with his autism.
"I understand they are underfunded but it's ridiculous that our son is having to travel so far, in a taxi with other kids he has had to be separated from after we intervened because he's clashed with them.
"There just isn't anywhere for him to go in Suffolk - it's scandalous.
"The mainstream placement he was in was so wrong for him, they expected far too much of him academically, and at times it deeply upset him to go to school."
Max Addison, who also has autism, is currently at Doucecroft School in Eight Ash Green, near Colchester. He lives with his mum Beverley in Kentford, near Newmarket, and gets a taxi provided via school transport to make the 100-mile round trips to and from Essex. Now 13, Max struggled to adjust to special school placements he was offered in Suffolk.
"He wasn't academic enough for them, they just didn't know how to manage his needs," said Ms Addison.
"It wasn't as if we didn't try - we were offered placements in Suffolk but none of them were able to give him what he needed, they were just so inappropriate for him and his autism, they left him traumatised.
"It's meant we were forced to look elsewhere, and now we've found what I think is the right place for him, it's 60 or so miles up the road. Max is an anxious child as it is and the long journeys don't help that.
"Any friends he was to make or relationships he builds have little to no future. When he moves up to the next level of education or to work at some point, he might never see any of them again."
'Not enough provision to meet demand'
Council chiefs said the first of the new SEND placements being created in Suffolk will be available from September 2020.
A spokesman said: "The complexity of care and support required by these young people requires highly specialised surroundings.
"This provision is not currently available in order for us to meet the demand within Suffolk, although with a commitment of over £40m over the next four years, the council is working hard to identify and develop locations for specialised SEND placements and support.
"Suffolk is not the only area to utilise the services provided by other authority areas.
"We do this to ensure each young person receives the most suitable support available if it can't be provided within the county."
Bosses also pointed to an increase in children being diagnosed, and added: "Nationally, there is now a greater recognition of the conditions and diagnosis for SEND than ever before, so more young people are able to get the support they need year on year rather than going unrecognised through mainstream education.
"This, coupled with the lack of specialist provision being available within county has led to an increase in the number of children and young people being supported outside of the county.
"Investment in new specialist provision will reduce the number of young people who go outside Suffolk."
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Out of county education can be 'isolating' - parents
Clare Kingaby-Lewis, co-chair of the Suffolk Parent Carer Network, said sending children out of the county for schooling can be "very distressing" for youngsters and their families.
"We know children/young people who are educated out of county are often our most vulnerable cohort," she added.
"If they are in residential places they face long periods of time away from home which can be very distressing for the whole family.
"If they are in day places they often have very early starts to the day followed by long taxi journeys.
"Not being educated locally means they are unable to make the connections in their community which further isolates them from making the fundamental relationships needed in later life.
She continued: "We have been involved in the new provision plans and investment, however we will continue to see children/young people in out of county placements until such time as the capacity of Suffolk adequately meets the needs of the population."
Thought of young people spending hours travelling 'deeply distressing' - councillor
Jack Abbott, Labour's education spokesman at Suffolk County Council, said hundreds of children are either being placed in the wrong provision or placements a very long way from home.
He said: "I was pleased to be part of a cross-party panel that helped produce the plans for the delivery of 800 new specialist placements in Suffolk, the first of which will come online in the autumn.
"However, that will come as little consolation to nearly 200 children who are already being forced to access provision outside our county.
"Of course, there are occasions where highly specialised, out-of-county provision is required, but the thought that so many young children are having to spend hours travelling every day is deeply distressing."
MORE: Children with special educational needs excluded three times more than others
He added: "Huge numbers of children with SEND are being excluded from school, just two in five EHCPs are being processed within the 20 week target and hundreds of children are either being placed in the wrong provision or provision that is a long, long way from home.
"While some progress is being made, change is simply not happening fast enough and the lived experiences of many children and families in Suffolk remains dire."