'Unprecedented rise' in demand for specialist education
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Council chiefs say there has been an "unprecedented rise" in demand for specialist education - and there will be a need for hundreds more school places in the years ahead.
Suffolk County Council has carried out an analysis of the first part of its multi-million-pound plan to improve SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) education across the county but admits there are still not enough places to keep up with the current needs with demand up more than 32%.
On Monday, June 20, the council's cabinet will be asked to agree another £15.9million investment on SEND to launch phase two of its programme.
In a report to cabinet, Gemma Morgan, head of SEND funding and provider services, and Laura Greenland, provider services manager, say the need is increasing every week.
They said: "Suffolk has seen an unprecedented rise in requests for placements within Specialist Settings with the Special Education Panel seeing between 60-120 new referrals on a weekly basis. When comparing autumn and spring terms over the past two academic years, the number of requests has gone up by over 32%.
"Between September 2021 and May 2022 there have been 1,333 referrals for specialist placements for children currently in mainstream schools.
"Of those, 380 specialist placements were offered and a further 144 were identified as being suitable for a specialist setting. However, no spaces are currently available.
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"These children will continue to be supported in mainstream schools by SCC’s Specialist Education Service. However, they require a specialist placement as soon as possible."
If the current trend continues, another 230 places will be needed by 2023-24 over what is currently being created.
Officers are still calculating longer-term future needs and a report will be brought back to councillors in September outlining the need for additional provision and how much it will cost.
The council has already agreed - and is implementing - a £45million project to expand SEND education and create 874 new specialist education placements.
The £24m first phase is now reaching its end and cabinet will be asked to authorise a further £15.9m for phase two. This will include a £5.3m DfE grant.
The council says phase one has created 825 extra places across the county, including 378 new places in Specialist Units attached to mainstream schools. Three Special Schools which will create an additional 260 places by September 2023.
Campaign for Change (Suffolk SEND), representing families, has been pressing for improvements to the SEND service.
The council has embarked on an improvement plan following the independent Lincolnshire Review. Since January, it has recruited 13 family services officers and an educational psychologist – with a further two education psychologists set to join in September.
Elsewhere, it has begun work to recruit another 20 new employees in the team thanks to a £1.1million uplift in the service’s budget, additional training for SEND decision making was held in April and ‘time to listen’ events were carried out in the spring to hear directly from parents.