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

Thousands of children with SEND unable to access formal education

Data obtained by ITV News has revealed that 8,660 children in England, Scotland and Wales are unable to access formal education despite having an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

Furthermore, FOI data from councils in England and Wales reveals that more than 5,000 children who have an EHCP do not have a place at any school.

Unregulated educational settings ‘propping up’ mainstream schools

This has left families searching for alternative education settings, outside of the mainstream education system.

It is estimated at least 20,000 children attend ‘unregistered alternative provision’ settings. These settings are not registered as schools but provide some form of education for children.

The government provides funding for some children who have EHCPs but do not have a place in school. This is known as ‘education otherwise than at school’ (EOTAS) ‐ a formal special education package which the local authority is legally responsible for.

According to the Department of Education, there are 8,400 children with EOTAS instead of a school place.

One parent told Sky News that her local council contacted at least 11 schools in a bid to find an educational setting for her daughter, who is autistic, but none were able to meet her needs.

Madeline’s mum, Emma, told Sky News that she had to give up work to find a place for Madeline to learn. Thankfully, she found an unregistered alternative provision in West Yorkshire which offers one-to-one tuition.

While this setting has offered a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for Madeline’s family, these settings are not registered with Ofsted and are therefore unregulated.

Number of children with SEND rising rapidly while special school places have only increased marginally

More parents, speaking to ITV News, explained their struggles in finding education for their children. Three parents said their children, all of whom are autistic, have been out of school for more than a year due to a lack of special school places.

Indeed, while the number of pupils in England identified as having SEND rose by 87,000 between 2022 and 2023, the number of special school places has only risen by around 7,000.

Disability charities have long been calling for a reform of the SEND system that delivers the support children need.

Tim Nicholls of the National Autistic Society said there is an “unacceptable” lack of support in mainstream and specialist schools for autistic children.

“It’s vital that the growing need for autism specific support is met, and it’s equally important that all teachers and school staff receive mandatory autism training to improve understanding of autism in all schools,” he said.

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