This may well be the first of a few on this topic so don’t feel that you need to read on!
I know that I bang on about inclusion and why I think it is important. I don’t apologise for that in anyway; it should be the norm and schools must be incentivised to be so and not rewarded if they aren’t. Now that’s over with I’ll get to the point.
As a school that’s had significantly over 50 EHCPs for most of my headship the challenge of continuing to find £6000 of ‘notional’ (non-existent) funding is increasingly impossible and damaging to the whole school. However, that is not the biggest issue I have at the moment.
The consistent lack of funding for SEND has reached an unsustainable level. Of course it is not unsustainable for those making decisions about what funding we need. I doubt if any of the current DfE leading lights are fighting to get their child the provision they need but 1000s of parents/carers are.
I am becoming more and more convinced that the only way to get the support some of our most vulnerable young people need is to permanently exclude them. I know this sounds hideous and it is but stick with me so I can exemplify why.
A young person starts secondary school. The school only receives £2000 to pay for the £8000 support package that has been deemed necessary on the EHCP. The school works with the family and does everything they can to meet their needs. However despite their joint efforts it is recognised by the family and the school that the young person needs special school provision.
After much form filling, emails and several weeks of the child continuing to struggle at school (impacting negatively on them, other children and the adults trying to support them at home and school) a special school place is agreed. Not bad as it’s only December and in SEND world that’s quick; disgraceful as that is!
You ready for the but?
BUT there is no start date and the school is told to cope until it is available!
So the school and the parents/carers talk it through and think that they can get the young person through the time but obviously they’ll need to put extra support in place to avoid further damage being done to anyone. They approach the LA together and ask, as it is now officially recognised that the child needs specialist provision, could they apply for the funding they need to get them through it?
No brainer, right?
Surely there is a moral and legal imperative to fund the support. It is considerably less money than a special school place costs so, as I said, no brainer!
I’m sure you’ve guessed no funding is agreed and the school is expected to keep that vulnerable child in school whilst ensuring their classmates and the staff supporting them are able to continue to be successful. So now the inclusive school, that is trying to do the right thing, is even more out of pocket and the child is not in the right setting.
I’ll reiterate – for months the child and the school are expected to cope. It is disgraceful but is happening. It would be easy to heap the blame on the LA but the simple fact is that there are not enough special school places and they have less and less money to give to support children in mainstream.
Before anyone mentions the money recently announced by the Damian Hinds let’s wait and see how much of that money actually makes it in to schools, to support children, and let’s see if the capital spending is actually directed to where it is needed rather than where the parents are most organised to make free school applications. After all just ask the Office for National Statistics about the governments rather loose use of numbers when making funding pronouncements.
I have another example… imagine this:
A young person has increasingly complex and severe mental heath challenges. The frequency of their outbursts and meltdowns is increasing. They are becoming violent towards other people and damaging themselves. It reaches the point that the young person would normally be permanently excluded due to violence. The school knows that if they do that they would end up in a setting that would do nothing to help and, in fact, would make the young person even more vulnerable to physical and emotional/mental harm.
When contacted the LA drags its feet putting the onus back on the school to make a decision on how to keep the child safe and to educate them. The school muddles through but not in the best way for anyone. The LA agrees a special school place. The child’s mental health continues to deteriorate. They stop accessing school at all. The child is out of school completely for 6 months (and counting) whilst awaiting a special school place. They are on final assessment for a school for 2 months (and counting).
In both these examples if the school had permanently excluded the young people they would have very quickly been given a school place by the LA – not in a special school of course. What would have happened next would have been very traumatic for the children involved and the staff in the school that will be expected to teach/support them. The young person will have to carry the PEx label and the feeling of rejection. The melt downs get worse and home life deteriorates too very, very quickly. However, the rapid failure of that placement would force the hand of the LA to find an appropriate school place and probably in a matter of weeks not months.
So what do we do for the best interests of the children we serve? There is no ‘good’ decision to be made but if the only way to get the provision they need is to permanently exclude then that’s what heads, that want to help these young people to succeed long term, will feel they have to do but it’ll break my, and their, heart.
LAs and central government must act now to stop this all becoming the only option