Grahame Robson is the headteacher of Manor Green College Special School in Crawley, West Sussex – where the local authority is predicting a £4.1 million shortfall in high-needs funding this year.
He says there is a “perfect storm” of “too much demand for SEND provision, insufficient places at an affordable cost, cash frozen for three years and demand continuing to rise.”
He adds: “I have already reached the stage where I am having to send students home because we don’t always have enough staff to guarantee their safety.
“We have one student who requires two NHS-trained members of support staff to be with him at all times. I have four trained, but if two of them are off sick, I can’t always redeploy both of the other two, because they now have additional responsibilities to other students.”
Three years ago, Robson had more staff to help spread the load, but now he is facing stark choices.
He says: “Last week, I had to make a very difficult decision to not allow two other students back in until further notice because their complex and extreme health needs were putting too much strain and responsibility on the small number of staff available to look after them.
“The level of risk was so great that I could not guarantee that we could cover it all day every day and the consequences of a mistake are too horrendous to contemplate.”
The situation is bad now, but in April the school will make another £70,000 of cuts, which will mean losing two more learning support assistants, “plus minibuses, training budget and some other ‘luxuries’ like specialist mobility equipment for students learning to walk.”
The school has “0.8 of a nurse” who also works with the special primary next door, covering 390 pupils on site in total.
The NHS has “insisted” that the school needs two full-time nurses but that would only be affordable by losing another learning support assistant.
Robson says: “Any parent with a special-needs child knows that the reality is that you have to fight to get what you are entitled to, but this is worse, because in some areas the heart is being ripped out of the very core of the service. Unless we all start fighting for our special schools soon, there isn’t going to be a service worth saving”.