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Monday, 27 January 2014 00:00

Special Needs places in Special Schools and Units - KOS 26 January 2014

Kent County Council is introducing an SEN and Disability Strategy seeking to improve and re-focus the provision of school places for children with Statements of Special Education Need  (SSEN) and to raise standards of performance. This article looks at its plans to increase the number of places in Special Schools and Specialist Resource Based Units by at least 275 over the next four years. The strategy recognises an increase in the number of children with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorders), SLCN (Speech, Language and Communication Difficulties); and BESN (Behavioural, Emotional and Social Needs) across the county, putting great pressure on current provision.

Of some 6,500 Kent pupils currently with SSEN, around 3000 are in Special Schools, and 800 in Units. Most of the remainder are supported in mainstream schools. In total, these children comprise some 2.8% of the school population, but take up around 20% of the county direct school education budget.

Over half of the places in Special Schools are for children with Profound, Severe and Complex Needs, most of which have recently expanded to take in around 250 extra children in total.

Kent is now proposing a further expansion of 275 places for ASD, SLCN and BESN in Special Schools and Units.......

There is considerable detail on where current provision is made and where new places are to be created in the Commissioning Plan for  Education Provision in Kent, published last year.

175 of these places will be in current Special Schools or new “satellites”, the biggest proposal being for 96 new places for high functioning (able) children with ASD/SLCN Statements at the re-designated Furness School in Hextable. This will double the current county provision currently based in East Kent at Laleham Gap School, although a group of parents in Sittingbourne is attempting to set up another Free School there with the same aims.  

Another 100 new places will be in Units based in mainstream schools. Units provide education and support within their own environment using specialist staff, but as the children develop, they increasingly introduce them to mainstream classes as and when they are ready for this.

The popularity of Units is demonstrated by the fact that nearly all are full and numbers continue to grow. There are 19 in primary schools, and 22 in secondary. For schools, a major drawback of Units is that their children are included in examination performance statistics, which often has a negative effect in school league tables.

However the good news is that KCC has already opened two new Units as part of its expansion plans, at: Ashford Oaks (ASD); at Sittingbourne Community College (SLCN); and two additional specialisations to existing secondary Units – New Line Learning Academy and Pent Valley Technology College for Visual Impairment. Kent is commissioning five new Primary Free Schools to meet growing demand, and plans to put Units into each of these: 12 ASD in Folkestone and Kings Hill; and 28 BESD in Sheppey, Leybourne and Holborough (near Snodland).

This is against a controversial background of events four years ago, when KCC officers began to implement a policy to phase out Units across the county, without the knowledge of Members of the Council, although the policy was published on the KCC website. Officers quietly stopped all new admissions in pilot areas of the scheme to replace Units, whilst discouraging parents in others to take up places. I challenged this policy, whose existence was denied at the highest level, eventually persuading Members of what was happening, with the strong campaigning support of Kent On Sunday. After a difficult battle, Members finally reversed the policy in October 2010 (although continuing to maintain publicly that there had been no such policy).

Three years on, KCC appears to be supporting SEN Units attached to mainstream schools, although the documents are actually quite vague on this. Sadly, 13 Units closed in the intermediate years, some because of a fall in numbers, others because of school policies to close Units, taking with them invaluable loss of experience and expertise.

Meanwhile, KCC is exploring new funding formulae coming down from government, which reduce the amount of money in school budgets providing SEN support in mainstream schools. One consequence of this is that some schools discourage children with SEN from applying for places with them, not only because of league table issues, but now financial penalties for supporting these children. As has happened in the past, this becomes a vicious circle, for the school with a reputation for being good with SEN, attracts a higher proportion of such children, which drags down its academic standing and then its popularity with other families. 

As always, SEN will remain a politically controversial area, this article only scratching the surface of some of the challenges ahead.

Last modified on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 07:18

1 comment

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 18 June 2014 10:44 posted by william

    My 4 year old son who is non verbal and severely autistic is at a special needs nursery unit in London and is in sept/oct about to go to a Primary school again with a special needs unit and we are waiting for the statement which we have been told will name which school out of our three choices. Unfortunately my company wants me to move to kent but I am worried that kent do not have the same facilities and I am tempted to remain in London although that would cause all sorts of family and work problems. I have read that kent are opening 19 units in mainstream primary schools creating 100 new places. How can I find out where these units are? PETER: I am not a Special Needs Specialist, but to me this sounds as if your son needs a Special School, catering for Severe Communication problems (including autism), usually at the same school as Profound, Severe and Complex, rather than a Unit which works in conjunction with a mainstream school, using a programme including integration. . There is a well established chain of such schools across Kent. You will find a list of Kent Special Schools at http://www.kentadvice.co.uk/individual-schools/special-schools.html, or contact KCC as you will need to agree the named school with them.

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