Mainstream schools should be given incentives and be checked to ensure that they support more children with special educational needs and disabilities, town hall bosses have said.
The Local Government Association is calling on the government to set “clearer national expectations” on what every school should offer a child with SEND and use an accountability regime to ensure schools deliver on this.
It says that schools that exclude pupils with SEND should be made to pay for alternative provision and transport costs for them.
Inclusion: 'Review heads' powers to exclude'
The body, which represents councils across the country, is also calling on Ofsted to place more emphasis on how inclusive schools are and to hold to account schools with low numbers of children with SEND through its new inspection framework.
Town hall leaders want ministers to use the latest government spending round to improve provision for pupils with SEND in mainstream schools.
SEND funding 'shortfall'
This comes as latest figures show a 30 per cent increase in pupils being placed in special schools since 2014.
There are currently 138,980 pupils with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) being educated in state special schools, alternative provision, and independent and non-maintained special schools.
The LGA is calling on the government to invest in councils so they can better support children with SEND – warning of a £1.2 billion funding shortfall next year.
It said that a combination of “funding constraints, accountability pressures and curriculum changes in mainstream schools have reduced capacity to make available good quality provision for children with SEND”.
Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “While a special school may be the right setting for a particular child, it is really important that mainstream schools are also able to offer a high-quality and suitable education for children with special needs.
“Many mainstream schools are absolutely committed to supporting children with SEND, but this is largely due to a sense of moral purpose and leadership, and through recognition that supporting children with SEND should be a collective effort.
“To better enable mainstream schools to provide this vital support, we need a system that incentivises and rewards those schools to provide an education for children with SEND, and as a result creates a more inclusive education environment.
“The government needs to address this in the upcoming spending round and also give councils the funding they need to support children with SEND.”
The average annual cost to a council of a special needs placement in 2017-18 was £6,000 per pupil per year in a mainstream school, compared with £23,000 per pupil per year in a maintained special school, and £40,000 per pupil per year in an independent or non-maintained special school.
Chancellor Sajid Javid is set to announce an increase in schools funding next week.
It has been reported that the Department for Education has been aiming to secure an extra £2.8 billion for primary and secondary schools teaching pupils up to the age of 16, including £800 million for children with SEND.
A DfE spokesperson said: “High-needs funding for children and young people with more complex needs is a priority for this government. That is why we recently held a call for evidence to understand how the funding system can be reformed to improve provision for those with special needs.
“Spending on young people with the most complex SEND has increased, from £5 billion in 2013 to well over £6 billion this year, including an additional £250 million we announced in December, up to 2020.
“We are clear that the vast majority of children with special educational needs should be supported and taught in mainstream schools and the SEND Code of Practice clearly sets out schools’ responsibilities in this regard.
"For some children with the most complex needs a special school will be the best environment to provide the support needed for that child to lead a happy and fulfilled life.”
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Our education inspection framework, which takes effect next Monday, makes it clear that schools should be inclusive and support those pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities.
"It will also look closely at where schools might be off-rolling and grade them accordingly. Inspectors will check that schools are meeting the needs of pupils with SEND and are making the most of specialist support.
“Our new approach will mean that inspectors will focus more on the curriculum and spend less time looking at test and exam data.”