The latest statistics revealed this month (14 December) by the Ministry of Justice show the number of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) appeals registered in the last academic year has risen by a huge 27% or over 1,000 cases to 4,725 appeals. Sadly, I’m not surprised.
By their very definition in the Children and Families Act 2014, a SEND child, “calls for special educational provision to be made for them”. This provision is “additional to or different from that which would normally be provided for children or young people of the same age in a mainstream education setting.”
The difficulties arise in disagreements about the form this special educational provision takes. As “provision that is additional”, inevitably comes with additional costs, so whatever this is needs to be agreed with a Local Authority.
In an effort to avoid disagreements and unsuitable provisions, The Children and Families Act 2014 laid out general principles that local authorities pay particular attention to the views, wishes and feelings of children and their parents, and young people with SEN. The hope is by including the children and the parents in discussions about their needs and future provision that this will avoid disagreements and the need for a tribunal.
However, in such a sensitive area and with limited resources, disagreements still occur and parents and Local Authorities can end up potentially ‘battling it out’ in a legal proceeding. And these legal proceedings are on the rise.
The number of children with Statements of Special Educational Needs(SEN) or the newer Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) has been the same proportion of roughly 2.8% of children at school since 2009. However, as the number of children at school has increased therefore so have the number of children with SEN Statements and EHCPs to 242,185 in 2016 (year ending January 2017). This includes an additional 5,380 children with a SEN statement or EHCP in 2016, than there were in 2015, all of whom need additional support, provisions and/or specialist settings.
Put simply, there are more children needing additional provisions every year.
The latest statistics released show an increase in the number of SEND appeals to 4,725 in the academic year running August 2016 to August 2017 year. This means that for every five new Statements or EHCPs that were registered in 2016/17 the Local Authority were also dealing with four SEND appeals. Appeals cover many things from decision to not assess a child for SEN to which school is most suitable for them. Of all the appeals in 2016/17, 2,025, nearly half, came from children with a presenting need of autism/ASD.
This is something I understand. Both my son’s main presenting needs are autism. Whilst our eldest was then thriving with support in a mainstream setting, it was obvious to us that our youngest was going to need greater support in a specialist autism provision. Our mission became to find this suitable setting. Despite having two autism specific settings within two miles of our home, neither had space for our son who was due to start in his reception year. We had to look outside the borough. Our borough currently has nearly 500 children that it sends to provisions outside its borders as it is unable to meet the child’s needs. There are many boroughs with much higher numbers.
A new free school three miles away looked like a suitable placement but at the last moment had planning permission denied and our place was lost. We began to panic. We looked at our neighbouring boroughs and although we could find suitable provisions, again not a single one of them had space. The only space in our borough was at a local special school for complex learning difficulties. We felt this was not appropriate as it was not specialised in autism and started to look at independent schools, several of which were quite far from home.
At the very mention of the word ‘independent’ the discussion with the borough became more difficult. I began to gear myself up for a..war. But we got lucky. A space became available at one of the autism specific settings within two miles of our home and everything was completed amicably.
About 12% of children going through regular school applications missed out on their top choice of primary school for this last September. Choice was not something I associated with our school decision. Our son, thankfully, ended up at the only placement available for him. However, during the process, the battle for resources became so intense that we wouldn’t share information with other parents, incase they got to a placement first.
The lack of provision, in our case, pitted us not only against the borough but also against other SEN parents and broke one of the key support networks we could have. Our borough is one of hopefully many, looking to create new specialist free schools to meet the needs of its population.
One thing is for sure, without an increase in effective appropriate provisions and resources available or a change in the system, there will continue to be children at risk of missing out on a suitable education and many more battles in court.