The number of special schools in the UK has been growing steadily. This is not because the era of inclusion has ended, but because there are more children who are increasingly complex in their presentation – either with increased medical needs or multiple diagnoses – who need the type of education and facilities special schools can provide.
But there are still not enough places for all children – we can’t keep up with demand. As a result, there are often no places left for pupils whose needs in the past may have warranted a special school placement, but which are now deemed less severe. These students therefore have to stay in mainstream schools. This is a problem, as the funding is not there to make this situation work.
In many cases, those complex pupils left in mainstream schools are not coping and the staff working with them are struggling to implement appropriate strategies and access appropriate resources. A common result of this is that many of these students are receiving fixed-term and permanent exclusions.
Lack of funding
A key part of the problem here is funding. The money for students with complex special educational needs and disability is taken from the high needs pot of funding, but this has not increased in line with the rise in the number of pupils with high needs.
Anecdotally, I know some local authorities are now considering taking some funding from the dedicated schools grant and moving it to the high needs block, which in effect is taking money from the mainstream pupils to give more to those with high level SEND.
Meanwhile, a national funding formula for schools is being proposed which will look to level funding allocations across the country, but there is no suggestion of how this might be achieved for pupils with high needs SEND.
It is time for a holistic look at how we provide the best possible education for pupils with high needs SEND, which brings together analysis of who should be provided with support, where this can best take place and how it is funded. This shouldn’t be impossible, but it at present it seems to be.
Dr Penny Barratt is executive headteacher of the Bridge Integrated Learning Space in London