Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Funding boost for special schools fails to address families’ immediate need

The government has announced an £850 million funding package to boost the number of places at special schools, but charities are concerned the funding will do little to help families’ immediate needs.

The funding comes as part of a £2.6 billion investment which aims to deliver more than 60,000 special school places across the country. Local authorities can use the funding to create new places in mainstream and special schools, as well as other specialist settings, and to improve existing buildings to make them more accessible.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan says the money will help to ensure “every child gets a world-class education, and the support they need to reach their potential.”

However, the Disabled Children’s Partnership says the funding does not address the urgent need for more specialist support or the wider needs of disabled children and their families.

Lack of special schools ‘negatively impacting’ families

The lack of special school places has caused major problems for families across the country. Earlier this year, ITV News found that nearly 9,000 children with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) are unable to access any formal education.

This number is largely driven by a lack of special school places and mainstream schools being unable to meet additional needs. This has left families searching for other types of informal education which are not monitored by regulators in the same way mainstream schools are.

Long waiting times for school placements are having a negative impact on families, and this week, a report by the Care Quality Commission and Ofsted found that children with additional needs in North Northamptonshire are suffering due to a lack of support.

The report found “widespread and/or systemic failings” among services providing support for children with SEND, and the regulators are now concerned about the experiences and outcomes for these children.

The regulators found there had been a failure to address excessive waiting times for services, such as speech and language therapy and mental health services, and this is “negatively impacting” those who draw on support.

This issue is not confined to one area of the country, with new research finding that councils across the UK are increasingly forced to reject requests to assess children for special needs support due to deficits in schools budgets.

An ‘urgent need’ for more specialist support in mainstream schools

Campaigners and charities have voiced their concerns about the delays to building accessible schools which is fuelling extensive waiting lists for formal education settings.

In a tweet, Richard Kramer, Chief Executive of Sense charity, questioned how the funding will help disabled children and families who are currently struggling to find places due to lack of provision in their local area.

The Disabled Children’s Partnership has voiced similar concerns. A spokesperson told LDT: “It’s not clear how much this is new funding or just confirming previous announcements. Notwithstanding that, whilst it is welcome to see investment in new specialist placements, this doesn’t address the urgent need for more specialist support in mainstream schools; nor the wider needs of disabled children and their families, where there remains an annual funding gap of £573 million for social care alone.

“This funding must be followed by more sustained investment, alongside stronger accountability so that parents do not have to fight for the support their children need.”

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