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Residential special schools are 'isolated' and lack ambition, review says

Education secretary Justine Greening responds to report by setting up a leadership board for children with high needs

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Vulnerable children with special educational needs are being let down by residential special schools that are “professionally isolated” and lack ambition, an independent review has found.

Some residential special schools focus on wellbeing and therapeutic support of their pupils at the expense of educational progress, according to a review of residential special schools and colleges.

And adversarial relationships between local authorities (LAs) and providers leave young people “caught in the middle” and can cause delays in them receiving the right support, it found.

Currently, there are around 6,000 children educated in 334 residential special schools and colleges in the state, non-maintained and independent sectors.

And today’s review, Good Intentions, Good Enough?, written by Dame Christine Lenehan and Mark Geraghty, says: “Some young people can be held back by a lack of ambition for what they can achieve. Preparation for adulthood can suffer because of this, and some LAs feel outcomes are not as good as they should be.

“This lack of ambition can remain unchallenged thanks to inadequate monitoring of placements by some LAs, with annual reviews regularly going unattended.”

'Weak networks'

It concludes: “Some residential special schools seemed professionally isolated, with weak networks inhibiting the sharing of good practice and learning from bad practice.

"Experiences and outcomes for these children and young people are too often not as good as they should be."  

The review calls for young people with SEND to get the services and support they need in their local community. 

It also says that local areas should plan and commission provision strategically, and ensure that accountability systems enable children to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Today's review also recommended that the Department for Education create a national leadership board for children and young people with high needs.

In a response to the review, education secretary Justine Greening wrote: “It is now time to increase our focus on the quality of the support that these children and young people receive. 

“This is particularly important for the children and young people in residential special schools and colleges, who are some of the most vulnerable in our society.”

Ms Greening has:

  • Set up a national leadership board for children and young people with high needs;
  • Published updated guidance for local authorities on their duty to visit children and young people in long-term residential settings;
  • Published a new resource setting out evidence on effective approaches for these children.

She has added that a fuller response will be made next year.

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