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(UK) Plans for thousands more special school places 'do not go far enough'

Mar 2, 2023, Guardian: Services in England for children with special needs to be ‘transformed’

Services for children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) in England are to be “transformed”, with the introduction of new national standards and thousands more specialist school places, ministers have announced.

The long-awaited changes are being introduced to end the postcode lottery that families currently face and ensure that children and young people with Send get “high-quality, early support” wherever they live, the government says.

As part of its Send and alternative provision (AP) improvement plan, the government has identified local authorities in England where 33 new special schools will be built as part of the free school programme to try to ease pressure on special school places.

New national standards will be drawn up so families know what support they should receive, who will provide it and who pays. In addition, the process for assessing children and young people’s needs through education health and care plans (EHCPs) will be standardised and made digital-first.

Many in the sector were underwhelmed by the plan at first sight. Stephen Kingdom, campaign manager for the Disabled Children’s Partnership, said: “Parents have been waiting years for the government to fix the broken Send system, but the reaction of many to today’s plan will be, “Is that it?”.

The government’s Send improvement plan will be published in full on Thursday, almost a year after its Send green paper and consultation, which prompted 6,000 responses, many from families who have struggled to get the support to which their children are legally entitled.

It will give more detail on investment in expanded training for 5,000 early years special educational needs coordinators and 400 educational psychologists, plus the introduction of an apprenticeship for teachers of children with sensory impairments….

The Department for Education (DfE) said an additional £30m [$36M] would be set aside to develop innovative approaches to short breaks to provide respite for families of children with complex needs. It will also fund local areas to develop new services, including play, sports, arts and independent living activities to give parents more time to themselves….

Margaret Mulholland, Send and inclusion specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, expressed concern about the length of time it will take to implement some of the policies. “More special schools are desperately needed, but will take years to build.

“The promise of additional places in the future will be of no comfort to those missing out right now who have a special school named on their EHCP but who can’t get a place as the relevant school is oversubscribed. Nor will it help the mainstream schools currently struggling to meet the needs of these pupils. We are yet to see anything to suggest the government understands the gravity of the situation and the urgency with which they need to act.”…

“Who is going to staff the new schools? There is a huge shortage of specialist staff. Children who fall between the gaps will still fall between the gaps. Stuck in alternative provision that bunches them together with untrained staff, they won’t be educated – they will be babysat. I despair.”…

The Local Government Association, which represents councils – some of which have built up huge deficits in their Send budgets – was also critical.

Louise Gittins, chair of the children and young people board, said the government’s measures “do not go far enough in addressing the fundamental cost and demand issues that result in councils struggling to meet the needs of children with Send”


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