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(UK) Thousands of special needs kids lack school places across England

Jun 18, 2022, Thousands of the most vulnerable and troubled children in England have been 'lost' in the education system
Thousands of the most vulnerable and troubled children in England have been lost in the education system because there is not enough specialist provision to look after them - with many high-risk kids being out of school for nearly two years.

Education leaders have told Sky News there are not enough special schools for children with severe behavioural and mental health problems - and despite demand going up, several schools have closed since 2020.

Demand is expected to continue growing due to a huge increase in children suffering from mental health problems caused by the pandemic.

According to the Local Government Association, cases have surged by a quarter in the past two years.

The UK's leading children's campaigner, Anne Longfield, says the education system is failing troubled young people in England.

Ms Longfield, the Chair of the Commission on Young Lives, said: "I think the education system is not set up well enough, at the moment, to be able to help vulnerable children succeed. It doesn't prioritise that.

"So many vulnerable children fail to progress throughout school to the extent that we would want to see them. And for me, that's a huge waste….

"But they remain the exception and we notice them because they are exceptional. There isn't many of them, but what I do know is that demand for that kind of provision is increasing."

Sky News was given unprecedented access to New Rush Hall School in Ilford, Essex, which is a special school for children with social, emotional and mental health problems.

The pupils have been excluded from their mainstream schools or Pupil Referral Units.

Executive Headteacher Sam Walters said: "You can't even compare this school to a mainstream school. They'll have around 30 kids in a class with one teacher. Here we have eight kids, with up to three teachers.

"We're kind of the special school that you can't see the disability of - you can't see the trauma as a physical thing. You see the behaviour that comes from it.

"The nature of the young people that come here is that it's been deemed a mainstream school couldn't meet their needs. It's not an appropriate provision for them. And they need a special school that specialises in social, emotional, mental health."

The school only has space for 80 pupils in primary and secondary due to the complex needs of the children. Pupils travel in from around London and Essex, with some requiring journeys of up to two hours.

Mr Walters said he has seen a significant increase in the number of children being referred to New Rush Hall, and he expects that to continue growing.

He said: "There just aren't enough special schools like this around. We have consultations come through all the time. I've had six come through just this week, but we have to turn them away because they're full….

"Kids that should be getting the highest quality of education because of their needs are just falling further behind because there's not enough places to provide them with the quality of education that they need."…

In response to the crisis, the Department for Education has announced it is investing billions in creating more special schools and alternative provisions.

The plans will see up to 60 new special schools introduced - creating more than 4,000 places - but the first wave won't be ready until 2025 at the earliest….

Anne Longfield


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