Over the next five years Edinburgh aims to halve the pound;2 million it spends on out of authority residential schools by educating most pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties in two new city special schools.
Councillors have agreed to use the public private partnership project to invest some pound;5 million in two new 60-place schools, one primary and one secondary. They want to close the four specialist schools now open in the city, none of which are said to be able to cope with new standards.
Edinburgh now sends 74 young people to 14 out of authority independent special schools. The council wants to restrict the service gradually to those with the most complex care and educational needs. Even then pupils will only attend residential schools closer to the capital, so parents and carers will have easier access.
Last week the education committee approved a revised policy on supporting children and young people with difficulties. The strategy aims to support pupils within their family, school and local community wherever possible. But it recognises that some will need specialist help in a special setting.
Officials note: "The further a pupil is removed from their home school the less likely it is that they will go back to that school on a permanent basis. This becomes more acute the older a pupil becomes."
Experience from support services shows that any gains in the classroom are unlikely to last unless they are backed up by the family and care network.
A multi-agency pilot project is now under way to tackle pupils with challenging behaviour. It is likely it will be extended to the 17 primaries currently involved in the early intervention scheme.
The council now believes as many as a quarter of pupils could be cared for in nonresidential placements. "Some package of close support, care, respite care and day education may have been able to meet the needs of some of these pupils," the council says.
"However, it is worth noting that even this group of pupils are largely reported to be making good progress in their residential placements and there is a high level of parental satisfaction."
o A survey of 282 pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties in the city's specialist provision revealed that 68 per cent were behind their reading age and 30 per cent had mental health problems. A smaller study of 45 pupils at residential schools showed that nearly half were victims of physical or sexual abuse.
The larger study, carried out last May, found that 65 per cent were under-achieving, nearly 20 per cent had moderate learning difficulties and 12 per cent specific learning difficulties. Some 30 per cent had mental health problems.
Over half (52.5 per cent) had attended a children's hearing and 68 per cent had been excluded from school. Officials estimated 36 per cent had little chance of reintegration into mainstream schools, and only 16 per cent "a realistic" chance.
Over a third were physically violent towards their peers and one in four violent towards adults. Sixty one per cent were verbally aggressive to their peers and adults, and 53 per cent were uncooperative.
Almost half (44 per cent) had regular social work involvement and nearly 23 per cent were looked after away from home. The majority (64 per cent) of parents and carers were supportive but 37 per cent of them were willing but unable to offer help.
The smaller study of pupils in residential schools showed them to be habitual delinquents, female truants and phobicsthe pro and children with long histories of special education. A high proportion had been exposed to domestic violence and some nearly half had been in care.
The council now believes as many as a quarter of pupils could be placed in nonresidential placements. "Some package of close support, care, respite care and day education may have been able to meet the needs of some of these pupils. However, it is worth noting that even this group of pupils are largely reported to be making good progress in their residential placements and there is a high level of parental satisfaction," Edinburgh comments.