‘Cleansed by cuts’: schools refuse places to special needs pupils

Julia Maunder, head of Thomas Keble secondary school, in the pretty hilltop village of Eastcombe, Gloucestershire, has worked hard to make the school inclusive. In the top 30% nationally for student progress and attainment, it has built up a reputation for its expertise with special educational needs (SEN). Local parents whose children need support to access mainstream education seek it out. The Guardian reports.

But Maunder has taken a step she could never have imagined: she has announced she will be cutting her intake of children with education, health and care plans (EHCPs, which replaced statements of special needs in 2014) from 35 children to between 25 and 22, over the next four years.

The “heartbreaking” decision, she says, on the verge of tears, has been taken as a last resort, to “preserve the quality of our SEN provision, and our overall outcomes”.

Nationally, the average proportion of children with EHCPs in a school is 1.6%, but Thomas Keble has nearly four times that – 6% – the highest proportion in the county. To offer adequate support, Maunder says, she has to take fewer EHCP children.

Schools must meet the first £6,000 of the cost of supporting a child with special educational needs – put bluntly, pupils who need specialist help typically cost more than they bring in.

However, Anne-Marie Irwin, a solicitor who specialises in representing children with SEN, believes this “efficiency” of education “is solely an issue for the local authority to consider, when it decides whether or not to name a school on a plan”. Under section 43 of the Children and Families Act, [pdf] “when a school – including academies – is named in the EHCP plan, the governing body must admit that pupil”.

In Gloucestershire, 20 children with EHCPs were taken out of school to be home-educated in 2017 and another 20 in 2018. The council has begun counting how many other children receiving school SEN support have been withdrawn to be educated at home: in 2018 it was 106.

Josephine Smith-Mands’ son is one of them. “My husband and I were tired of a broken system and refused to let our son become a broken child,” she says. She withdrew the boy after his school, Berkeley primary, did not offer support recommended by his hospital consultant, she says. The Guardian has seen an email from the doctor to the local authority saying that the approach being adopted to support the child was not going to meet his needs.

In Gloucestershire, 20 children with EHCPs were taken out of school to be home-educated in 2017 and another 20 in 2018. The council has begun counting how many other children receiving school SEN support have been withdrawn to be educated at home: in 2018 it was 106.

Josephine Smith-Mands’ son is one of them. “My husband and I were tired of a broken system and refused to let our son become a broken child,” she says. She withdrew the boy after his school, Berkeley primary, did not offer support recommended by his hospital consultant, she says. The Guardian has seen an email from the doctor to the local authority saying that the approach being adopted to support the child was not going to meet his needs.

Read the full article ‘Cleansed by cuts’: schools refuse places to special needs pupils

Do you have a child in need of SEN education and can’t get a place in a school? Or have you taken your child out of mainstream education because of the lack of help and support by their school? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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