Cornwall children sent as far as Scotland for school as parents claim special needs system is ‘broken’

Posted: 5th May 2022

There are claims that there is a lack of funding from the Government for special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision and that there is growing demand for services which are under pressure.

 

Educational provision for children with special needs in Cornwall is “broken” with some children having to travel as far as Scotland for schooling while parents say they are struggling to get the support they need for their youngsters.

New data provided by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism as part of a national project shows that Cornwall Council currently has a multi-million pound deficit in the funding it is given to provide support for special educational needs and disability (SEND) children while also having to spend thousands of pounds to send kids out of Cornwall to access education.

Cornwall was highlighted as the local authority sending a child the farthest distance in the country to access education, with one child being sent to Fife in Scotland – almost 600 miles away.

Read more: Sadness and disappointment as beach school plans are refused

And parents in Cornwall say they are struggling to get the help they need for their children and are even being discouraged from getting Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) which would place a legal responsibility on local councils and schools to provide sufficient support for children.

Sitting in the kitchen of her home in mid-Cornwall Sarah* (names changed to protect identity) says that she has had to give up her job to look after her autistic son James* after his school refused to apply for an EHCP and he was unable to attend. James now spends most of his time at home although is now being provided with some lessons for a short time each week at school as well as online tutoring at home and home visits from an educational organisation.

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The now 12-year-old’s parents were aware that James was struggling when he was unable to concentrate and adjust to classroom life at primary school. Academically he is considered to be among the top students in his class but his autism means he finds it difficult to adjust to school life.

His parents suggested to staff at both primary and secondary school that he should be assessed for an EHCP but say they were told it would be a waste of time as he would not be eligible. However, without this documentation the school and his parents are unable to access the funding which might pay for the support he needs to be able to complete his education. Instead James found himself at school being punished on an almost daily basis for what staff considered to be poor behaviour but his parents say is his way of coping.

His parents have now applied for an EHCP themselves – they only discovered they were able to do this after a lot of research and speaking to independent organisations – but despite putting in the application at the beginning of December and being told they would get a draft EHCP by mid-April, have heard nothing.

Sarah said: “Schools are telling parents that they won’t apply for EHCPs as you won’t get them, which seems odd as if children have EHCPs then schools can access funding to pay for the resources and support they need. But then councils only have a limited amount of money so they are probably not issuing as many EHCPs because they know it will mean they have to provide more. However, it seems that schools are discouraging EHCPs so the true number of people who are unable to get them is probably hidden.”

James’ parents say his school had a habit of highlighting that it is a “mainstream school” but Sarah says that getting alternative provision is impossible without having an EHCP. There is also a lack of specialist provision available in Cornwall to meet the needs of SEND children.

Since having to fight for the support they think James deserves, his parents have been shocked to find how many other families are in the same situation. And the impact is not limited to James, as Sarah says that the whole family have all suffered as a result, particularly in terms of mental health.

Parent Carers Cornwall (PCC) is an organisation which has been set up to help parents and families get the support they need for their children. It offers practical advice and support for those who want to get EHCPs for their children and acts as advocates on their behalf.

Kay Henry, strategic lead for PCC, said there were real issues in Cornwall with a lack of funding from central government, lack of specialist provision and new problems from people migrating into Cornwall with SEND children but with no additional funding being provided.

“As far as funding is concerned we are the second lowest funded area in the UK. The funding is shocking. I have raised it in national meetings about the funding coming into Cornwall, both in education and health. It feels we are at the end of the country and everybody forgets about us.

“The biggest concern for us at the moment is a significant number of children with SEND who are moving into Cornwall but there is no funding being increased to cater for their needs.”

Kay said that Cornwall historically had a good record with EHCPs in completing assessments within an agreed timeframe but this has been impacted by issues with staffing and recruitment which are currently hitting all public services in Cornwall. She did also agree with Sarah’s assessment that some schools are actively discouraging parents from seeking EHCPs for their children.

“It is not across all schools – there are many schools in Cornwall which go above and beyond to help children and families – but there are schools which discourage parents from getting EHCPs. We sit in meetings where we tell parents that they can refer themselves for an EHCP and they are sometimes not aware of that. We also help with tribunals and applying for EHCPs.

“One of the concerns we have is about vulnerable parents who might not know everything about this system – they will take what they are told by professionals on face value and if they are told their child would not get an EHCP then they might not do anything about it. As a result their child might find themselves needing additional support but not able to get it.”

Kay also said the need for specialist provision and support for SEND children had increased in Cornwall, but the level of funding provided had not. “The number of EHCPs has gone up tremendously over the last 12 months, there has been a steady rise over the last four years but especially in the last 12 to 18 months. But there has been no additional funding provided for Cornwall whatsoever.

“I do know that Cornwall Council has been lobbying the MPs and central government about this, not once but several times, but nothing has happened. The funding just isn’t coming to Cornwall.”

And Kay said there was a desperate lack of provision and specialist schools in Cornwall to help provide for SEND children. She highlighted a new social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) school planned for Bodmin, which she welcomes, but said it would not meet the demand.

“There aren’t enough special schools and there haven’t been for a number of years. Even with the new school there will be a lack of provision. I know that they are looking to have more area resource bases at schools and are asking schools which are willing to have them, but it will take a couple of years to get them in place.”

In addition Kay admitted that even if there could be buildings provided there would still be the problems with having enough funding to staff the units and the current problems with recruiting people. She added: “We have over 3,000 parents and children represented with us all over Cornwall. We hear on a daily basis the impact that this is having on children and their families and what they are going through. It does come down to money at the end of the day – it needs to be funded correctly, with the right provision in place and the staffing required for it.”

Data provided by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) appears to reflect the concerns that have been raised by James’ family and many others like them in Cornwall. The data, which has been acquired through a combination of research of Department for Education (DfE) information and Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to local authorities, covers a wide range of issues facing SEND provision.

It shows that Cornwall Council’s Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) fund, which pays for SEND provision as well as a range of other educational services, had a deficit of £1.5million in 2020/21 and was forecast to end the current financial year with a deficit of £4.9m.

Local councils which have a deficit in their DSG are required to provide a recovery plan to the DfE to explain how they propose to address the situation. CornwallLive asked for a copy of this from Cornwall Council but was told it was not available. The council said it did provide regular updates to the Cornwall Schools Forum and would provide information to the DfE if requested.

The BIJ data also provides information about the level of SEND provision in local authority areas as well as the number of EHCPs being issued and the number refused. This shows that in Cornwall there are 290 schools and that there are three special schools. In addition there are 19 SEN and resourced provision units.

In terms of EHCPs the data shows that there were 3,324 children in Cornwall with EHCPs in December 2020 and that a year later that had increased to 3,568 – a rise of 7.3%. The DfE said the number of children assessed for an EHCP in Cornwall who were then not issued one was 1%.The number of requests for EHCP assessments in Cornwall which were refused stood at 19.4%.

However, as indicated above in the experiences of James’ family this hides the fact that many families would like to have their children assessed for an EHCP but are discouraged by schools.

When asked to comment on the data Cornwall Council said in a statement: “We look forward to Cornwall’s participation in the Delivering Better Value programme from the DfE, which will look at the High Needs Block expenditure in Cornwall and seek ways to ensure that there are no future deficits – this will include an exploration of the sufficiency of specialist provision in Cornwall.”

The BIJ also looks at the number of children being sent outside of their local authority area to access education and provision. This shows that there were 89 children in Cornwall who had to go outside the Duchy to access education and provision. But it is the distances travelled which is the most startling with Cornwall having the second longest recorded distance sent for any child in the country as one is having to go from Cornwall to Fife in Scotland.

It also indicates that children from Cornwall are also having to go as far as Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Stockton-on-Tees, Wales, Doncaster, Kent, Coventry and Warwickshire. No details are provided for which institutions the children are travelling to or how much it is costing the council.

Asked to respond to this data Cornwall Council said in a statement: “Cornwall Council does not comment on individual cases. We always seek to ensure the appropriate level of support for children with SEND as close to home as possible, but it is equally important to match the child’s wellbeing needs with the appropriate educational facility. Where those needs are complex there may be limited options available.”

Source: Cornwall Live

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