SEND children ‘being forced to attend schools miles away’

29 May 19

Funding shortfalls have meant increasing numbers of children with special educational needs are attending schools outside their council area, according to figures obtained by The Observer

Almost 20,000 children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) are currently going to a school outside their council area - an increase of nearly a fifth in two years – the newspaper found through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Statistics from the National Educational Union have found all but 7% of local authorities have lost out on SEND funding since 2015 as a result of central government shortfalls in provision.

Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary, was quoted in The Observer saying: “Tens of thousands of children are travelling outside their areas, with the cuts making it impossible for either mainstream or specialist schools to provide the places and support they need.”

Only 113 of England’s 151 councils provided data for the 2018-19 period to The Observer, indicating the true figure of SEND children being educated outside their council area will be higher.

Pupils accepted as SEND children are given legally binding Education Health Care Plans (ECHPs) by their local authority, which sets out any additional support to which they are entitled.

This support is usually paid for by ‘high needs’ funding arrangements out of each local authority’s schools budget.

But councils face a SEND funding gap of almost £500 million in the 2018-19 period, according to the Local Government Association.

This is while the number of children and young people with ECHPs increased from more than 237,000 to almost 320,000 between the 2013-14 period and 2017-18 - a rise of 35%.

The LGA expects the funding gap to widen to £800m in 2019-2020, and up to £1.6bn by 2020-21.

The Observer also found at least one child from London is attending a school in Scotland, while a few children from Surrey and Hampshire are studying in Newcastle and Lancashire respectively.

One mother told The Observer she appealed to a tribunal after her local authority tried to send her son to an unsuitable local school, who now goes to a boarding school 100 miles from her home.

Families with SEND children and their supporters are expected to demonstrate in over 25 towns and cities across England over the funding problems, according to The Observer.

A Change petition to the education secretary calling for an inquiry into “unfair treatment of young people with additional needs nationally” and resources to enable more SEND children to attend mainstream schools has gained 13,851 signatures.

Charity Ambitious About Autism has suggested SEND funding incentivises schools to ‘off-roll’ pupils part-way through the year. Mainstream schools with SEN units can reportedly keep a fixed £10,000 pot per year per place regardless of whether a pupil remains for the whole year.

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said an extra £250m up to 2020 had been added to the ‘high needs’ budget - taking the total to £6.3bn this year, compared to £5bn in 2013. 

“We have launched a call for evidence to make sure the funding system is getting money to the right places at the right time and we are revising the SEND Code of Practice to improve ways to identify and meet special educational needs,” he added.

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