In the seemingly endless war of words and stream of conflicting pronouncements about funding in schools, parents of children with Special Educational Needs are often in the dark as to what they can do to find the best kind of support for their child and are often left feeling that they have to put up with inadequate provision, or worse still, they take their child out of school altogether .
Are you ‘stuck’ with whatever the Local Authority can provide or are there alternatives?
Sioban O’Connor at Education Advisers suggests you should speak to an independent consultant who can help you consider ALL the options.
To say that the SEN funding is a thorny issue is something of an understatement. The press is full of conflicting reports about how much is either being cut or invested and, depending on which side of the divide you are on, the sums of money that are being discussed are mind blowing. The news that our new Prime Minister is committed to increasing spending will undoubtedly be greeted with a resounding ‘about time’ by anyone who is involved with supporting children with Special Educational Needs. However, and forgive us if we sound cynical, we need to see it to believe it. If, as is being reported, the changes are not going to happen before 2022, there will be many hundreds, or rather thousands of pupils for whom that money, and the targeted support that it provides will come far too late.
So… what is happening… and what might you be able to do about it?
It is undeniable that the rise of the numbers of children and young people diagnosed with SEN has had a huge impact on Local Authority (LA), and in turn, school budgets, which we all know are being squeezed in real terms. Government figures indicate a shortfall of £1.2 billion in funding for SEN to Local Authorities, which, considering the increase in the number of SEN pupils, means a reduction of 17% per pupil in real terms. Most LAs are already suffering from overall budget cuts of over 60%., despite the Minister for Children, Nadhim Zahawi, stating that a further £250 million has been allocated to Local Authorities,
It is a complex situation and often a particularly vicious circle.
Increased awareness and understanding of the ways in which the lives of children and young people with SEN can be improved, together with a greater awareness of that entitlement, has resulted in a rise in the numbers of families who are desperate to simply get their child’s needs assessed and documented for provision via an Education Health and Care plan (EHCP); the legal document outlining the child’s legal right to support, which is proving to be a massive drain on LA budgets.
Similarly, mainstream maintained sector (state) schools, with their obligation to support every child, are also struggling to provide adequate support with their diminishing budgets. The combination of underfunding, the lack of schools with specialist provision, and attempts by teachers to support all children, results in cases of children with a range of more complex needs being left woefully under supported. It is not hard to see why; classes often of over 30 pupils of mixed abilities, a solitary teacher (occasionally helped by a Learning Support Assistant), attempting to cater for all the children in their care, will struggle to provide positive outcomes for any of the children.
Local authorities have now reached crisis point, with 9 out of 10 facing budget shortfalls of thousands, or even millions, of pounds. Several have also faced gruelling legal battles, as parents of children with SEN have taken local authorities to court for failing to provide the support their child has a statutory right to through the provision detailed in their EHCP.
So, is there anything an anxious parent can do?
The answer is yes!
There is a potential solution to be found in the independent (private) sector and you can start by returning to the recommendations outlined in your child’s EHCP.
Remember, that put simply, all children in the UK who are recognised as having Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities are entitled to extra support. The level of that support is dictated by the particular needs of each child. Once that need has been officially evidenced in an EHCP, parents and in turn schools, are able to claim funding for that support from the Local Authority, who are legally bound to provide it.
This means that if as a parent if you feel that
You are entitled to approach the LA for funding.
N.B. Local Authorities are not able to and will not explicitly refer families to any school, even those in their Local Offer (all schools that fall under the LA), as there must be transparency regarding the spending of public funds. They may, however, sometimes include Section 41 schools in their offer. Section 41 schools are independent schools for pupils with special educational needs, including those approved under section 41 of the Children and Families Act.
Many families fail to consider the independent sector as an option as there is no denying that it is expensive, often perceived as being academically selective, and therefore out of reach. However, whilst independent schools are not under the same obligation to accept every SEN child, they cannot be seen to discriminate if it seems that with a few minor modifications to the existing provision, a child would be able to access what the school offers.
Smaller class sizes and higher staff/ pupil ratios mean that opportunities for one to one SEN support is often an option in the independent Sector, and private schools have more freedom to offer a curriculum with a wide range of more vocationally focused courses; such as the BTEC suite of qualifications. Under the law, independent schools are also obliged to offer places to children with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities and will try to do so. In practice whilst an independent School will require every child to pass their admissions tests, they will also incorporate a degree of flexibility in tests for SEND children, as long as they are fully aware of the needs at the time of application. These places are offered to children on a fully or sometimes part funded basis, if the child can meet their entry requirements and that the school can reasonably adjust to support those needs.
At Education Advisers we are increasingly being approached to help families find independent SEN schools for their children. If you are interested in finding out more about the possibility of an independent school education for your child give us a call on 01622 812852 and speak to one of our consultants or fill in an enquiry form.