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(UK) W. Berkshire: Increase in "high needs block"; more autism is "national issue"

Feb 21, 2023, Newbury Today: New provision aims to tackle increase in number of children with special educational needs in West Berkshire

S. England

The number of children with special educational needs has increased by nearly 28 per cent in West Berkshire.
The increase has placed the district's high needs block under pressure by the increasing number of children who require a specialist placement.

There were previously a limited number of places available from the local authority which could meet the needs of these children.

This necessitated the use of expensive placements from independent providers.

West Berkshire’s current SEND Strategy (2018-2023) has sought to address this issue through the development of new, specialist provision intended to meet the needs of this cohort and reduce the use of independent and non-maintained provision.

The Castle at Theale for secondary aged children with autism and SEMH needs, opened in September 2022.

An equivalent provision for primary aged children was recently approved for development at Kennet Valley School.

Work has also been undertaken to boost and support inclusive practice in mainstream schools in order to reduce potential escalation of need.

Some examples of this include the launch of the Therapeutic Thinking support team, expansion of the autism team and the introduction of a team to support children who have difficulties with school attendance due to anxiety.

“The increase in the number of children with SEND, in particular of children with social, emotional and mental health needs and children with autism, is a national issue,” said a spokesperson.

“We are also seeing an increase in young children with learning difficulties and other associated needs (often including autism) requiring special school placements.

“Again, this mirrors that is happening nationally. It is very difficult to identify reasons for this, but the increase in autism could be due to increased identification and diagnosis, in that both parents and schools are more aware of the condition and therefore children are more likely to be put forward for identification and diagnosis than in the past."

The council says parents and professionals are now more aware that girls can be autistic – it was historically seen as a male phenomenon and therefore girls were under diagnosed.

However, it is not clear whether the incidence of autism has increased as well as its identification.

In addition, some of the reasons put forward for increased incidence include social factors such as later parenthood.

In 2018/19, the council reported an annual figure of 938 children with education, health and care plans (EHCPs).
By 2021/22 this had increased to 1,198, an increase of approximately 27.7 per cent.

This is in line with national and regional trends, which also show significant rises over the same period.

Children with EHCPs require support beyond what a typical mainstream school is able to offer and a small proportion require a specialist placement or a place at a special school.

This rise in EHCPs has placed pressure on all local services and providers supporting children with SEND, including mainstream and special schools, health providers and respite provision.


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