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(UK) Lincoln: $122M for 500 more special school places; still kids on waitlists

Sept 21, 2023, My Local Lincolnshire: Lincoln mum outraged as son with autism is denied place at specialist school

E. England

Inclusive education crisis as parents struggle to get educational support.

A Lincoln mum believes her family has been failed by the local council after her son was denied a place at a specialist education school.

Sharnie Philpot, 30, said she was "floored" after hearing that Lincolnshire County Council would not be offering her son Ralphi a space in a specialist environment.

At the age of just three years old, Ralphi has already been diagnosed with Autism, Global Development Delay (GDD) and is currently under assessment for Pica - an eating disorder where someone eats things not usually considered food.

After being assessed by an educational psychologist, who drafted an Educational Health and Care Plan (EHCP), it was found that Ralphi experiences high levels of anxiety in his current nursery setting.

The assessment also emphasised his need for full-time, one-on-one support, including during breaks and lunchtimes.

However, after the report was submitted to the LCC for consideration of an EHCP, it was denied. The family contested the decision, which was eventually reversed. But, Ralphi still wasn’t granted a place in a specialist school.

Currently, 2,713 children in the county benefit from an EHCP, studying in both maintained and academy special schools. Although the quota for these schools is set annually, these institutions often accommodate additional students if resources permit.

Furthermore, 340 children and adolescents are educated in independent specialist institutions, with placements arranged on an individual basis….

"They want to put my child who can't even cope at nursery in a room of no more than 10 children in a mainstream school with 25-30 children."

Although Sharnie attempted to appeal the education section of the EHCP, this time, LCC upheld their decision.

Sharnie continued: "We now have to wait up to 24 months for a tribunal which now leaves Ralphi with no place in the education system."

During the mediation, the local authority defended their decision by stating that Ralphi would have "some sort" of education in a mainstream school.

However, Ms Philpot insists this simply isn't good enough, adding: "He deserves the same chance at education as every other child in the world.

"Ralphi will now lose a whole year of education, if not more, until his case is heard and he could still be left without education if they don’t overturn their decision, which more than likely they won’t.

"How disabled does my son need to be before he fits the criteria? How many more diagnoses does he need at his young age?"

In response, Sheridan Dodsworth, head of SEND at Lincolnshire County Council, said: "Our aim is to ensure that children with special educational needs get the support they require.

"Sometimes that means a place at a special school, but, in many cases, a mainstream school and additional support is more appropriate. Every case has its individual circumstances, and there is an appeals process if parents disagree with a decision.

"Lincolnshire, like all other areas of the country, continues to see increasing demand for special school places. In light of that, the council is investing £100m [$122M] in local special schools, which is creating over 500 additional places."

Regrettably, the challenges faced by Ralphi are not isolated to Lincolnshire; children with special needs across the UK have encountered similar difficulties in recent years.

Jake Runacres, Policy and Parliamentary Officer at the National Autistic Society, added: "The SEND system is simply not working for autistic children.

"Families are facing lengthy battles to get the right support for their children, and our research shows that many autistic pupils are being failed by a woeful lack of appropriate school places.

"Nearly three-quarters of autistic children and young people are educated in mainstream schools, so increasing the number of schools specifically for children with SEND is not enough on its own to fix the problem.

"Every teacher needs to understand autism, and every autistic child needs to get the right support at school. That’s why we’re calling on the government to launch an autism school places taskforce to ensure the right school places and support are available for autistic pupils….

A spokesperson for the Disabled Children's Partnership also commented: "Sadly, Sharnie’s experience is one we hear replicated across the country, as parents battle to get the right support and right placement for their children.

"Many parents find that mainstream schools do not have the resources or access to the specialist staff needed to meet their children’s needs; but when they, therefore, seek a place at a special school, they find these are unavailable.

"The government has committed to creating more special school places, but it feels like they are running to keep up.

"We need to see more investment and support in mainstream, as well as investment in special schools, and we also need the government to ensure that children and families get the support they need from wider services such as health and social care.

"Our survey of parents of disabled children found that only one in three disabled children has the correct level of support from their education setting; only one in seven families had the correct level of support from social care and only one in five has the correct level of support from health services."

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