Placement costs reach record high

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Local authorities are spending massive sums on educating children in independent and non-maintained schools. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

Out-of-authority special education needs placements are costing a record Pounds 463.2 million a year, up by almost 14 per cent on 2003, new figures show.

The survey, carried out by SEN regional partnerships in July this year, shows that of the 8,380 pupils in 113 local authorities receiving this provision, there were 69 youngsters for whom placement costs exceeded pound;200,000 a year.

Last year, pound;407 million was being spent nationally on out-of-authority provision.

The survey analyses provision in independent and non-maintained schools by 113 local education authorities in England. Claire Lazarus, national adviser for the organisation, said the figures will now be used to plan the distribution of provision.

She said the findings were significant and the most detailed research to have been produced so far about the cost of this type of provision. "The fact that 113 local authorities have chosen to submit data is fantastic and shows that they can see the value in collaborating," she said. "This gives everyone the information they need to plan services nationally and regionally."

The figures come weeks after a report from the Office for Standards in Education into special needs education found that progress towards inclusion in state schools was poor. That study found that schools were finding it difficult to include children with social, emotional, and behavioural problems, even in schools where heads and staff were committed to the policy.

There are 10,270 out-of-authority placements - 4,578 of which are day and 5,692 residential - compared with 9,816 the previous year.

Numbers of places can vary hugely depending on the size of the local authority. Some of the smallest offer a handful, while the largest fund more than 400. At the lower end of the scale the average cost per child is pound;20,000 a year, rising to about pound;130,000.

Education budgets bear the biggest burden. This year, it is costing education services pound;277.7 million, compared with pound;166.6 million in 2003. Social services pay for about 20 per cent, or pound;73.6 million, while health budgets contribute nearly 5 per cent, or pound;17.6 million.

More boys require special needs provision, with a ratio of 3.5 to one girl.

Children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulty and autistic spectrum disorder have the most need for out-of-authority placements.

Chris Darlington, president of the National Association for Special Educational Needs, said: "There have been discussions between all interested parties in trying to reduce some of these costs, but since local authorities have been closing provision down it's become a buyer's market."

Jenny Ravenhill, principal psychologist for the National Autistic Society and for Radlett Lodge school in Hertfordshire, said: "The sums of money can be enormous, but we are dealing with the needs of individual children. For many it may be the social and environmental aspects of their development that require attention rather than the education aspect, so residential settings may be the only option.

"Social services departments within individual authorities often do not have the appropriate provision available."

Jackie Jackson-Smith, facilitator for the East Together regional partnership, said: "This is a big piece of work. There is a quality dimension to the information. It will give us a better system for monitoring and placing children with complex needs, and will mean that individual local authorities are not duplicating each other's work."

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