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Hull schools at ‘breaking point’ over special educational needs

Hull schools at ‘breaking point’ over special educational needs
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Schools in Hull have reached “breaking point” with insufficient funding to match rising demand from the most vulnerable pupils, headteachers have said.

In a letter to the education secretary, Damian Hinds, the city’s primary school heads said they no longer had the resources to properly look after children with special educational needs (SEN).

Hull’s specialist schools and pupil referral units were all full and mainstream schools were finding it “virtually impossible” to deal with the influx of children with specialist needs or challenging behaviour, they said.

“Mainstream schools are increasingly having to resort to fixed-term and permanent exclusion to deal with challenging pupils. This is despite the best efforts of dedicated staff in schools. There is a feeling that something has to change or schools will implode,” the headteachers wrote.

Teaching unions raised alarm about what they described as a “crisis in high-needs funding” after freedom of information requests in December revealed a £226m shortfall between the amount provided by central government and the amount local authorities across the country said they needed. In Hull, the high-needs budget is in a £2.2m deficit.

As many as 526 children aged four and under in Hull have been identified as displaying challenging behaviour or SEN – a figure that has grown in recent years, according to Michael Whale, the Hull secretary of the National Education Union. “This is a ticking timebomb that is heading towards mainstream schools in the first instance,” he said.

Whale said the city’s six specialist schools and five pupil referral units were full. One of those schools, Northcott, recently had 100 applications for 18 places for pupils with SEN, he said.

Headteachers in the city said schools were struggling to cope with a “perfect storm” of squeezed school budgets, increased demand on SEN provision and cuts to children’s services, which they said had previously acted as a safety net to resolve issues before they were brought into schools.

In the letter to Hinds, the heads demanded a £5m increase in high-needs funding “to ensure that no child is left behind”. They said the city had twice the national average of children in social services care and that one-third of the city’s families were in relative poverty, which they said was statistically likely to affect children’s education.

Phil Webster, the Hull councillor responsible for education, said the council had seen an increase in requests for statutory assessments of children with SEN following the introduction of government reforms in 2014. The changes have been met with confusion and criticism by some schools, councils and campaigners.

Webster said: “This increase is resulting in a significant pressure on the high-needs budget. We are aware of the concerns raised by schools and are working closely with the headteachers and other agencies in the city to increase specialist provision and support through a variety of proposals.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Core schools and high-needs funding has been protected in real terms per pupil and will rise to a record £43.5bn in 2019-20.”

The spokesman said Hull would receive more than £28m in high-needs funding in the next financial year, 3.6% higher than presently, and the budget was due to rise to more than £29m in 2019-20.

However, schools and councils have said the pressure on resources is far outstripping any rise in funding, driven partly by central government extending the age for which local authorities are responsible for young people with SEN from 18 to 25.

The number of children in England with a statement of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), or an education, health and care plan (EHCP), has risen by 8% from 223,945 in 2010 to 242,185 in 2017, according to Cordis Bright, a public services consultancy.

Whale said the crisis in high-needs funding was an issue for local authorities across Britain. He added: “The simple fact is that there are not the resources to properly provide the education that the children of Hull deserve. It’s ironic that a city that prides itself that no child should be left behind – well, I’m afraid that children are being left behind and it’s an absolute scandal.”

The number of pupils in Hull with EHCPs – a measure of more complex special educational needs and disabilities – rose to 1,226 last year, according to government figures, following a steady increase over the past decade.

This equates to 3% of the city’s total school population, higher than the national average of 2.8%. Schools in Torbay, in Devon, the City of London and Tower Hamlets have the highest percentage of pupils with SEND, at 4.5%, 4.4%, and 4.2% respectively.



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