Northamptonshire's special school places crisis worsens

Now the out-of-county placements market that the local education authority had been relying on is becoming 'saturated'

Friday, 10th July 2020, 9:45 am
Updated Friday, 10th July 2020, 4:08 pm
The high needs budget in Northants was overspent by 3.8m in the latest financial year.

The special needs schooling for Northamptonshire is reaching crisis point as county schools are full and the out-of-county places are running out.

The long running problem of a rapidly rising need for special primary and secondary school places in Northamptonshire is getting worse according to the education officer in charge of finding places for pupils.

Gwyn Botterill said despite being a national issue, the problem is much worse in Northamptonshire and a paper is going to the county council’s senior leadership team this week to look at the issue. Children with special needs have an Education, Health and Care plan, a legal document that sets out what they need in terms of schooling provision. In Northamptonshire rapidly growing numbers of parents are choosing to take their child out of mainstream and opt for a specialist school place.

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She said: “In Northamptonshire particularly the pressure on the special schools is much greater than both our statistical neighbours nationally and our regional colleagues.

“The rate of EHC plans in mainstream schools are plummeting compared to our other colleagues. That is the situation that adds to our pressures and we need to understand why that is. I’m not judging it – I’m just saying that is the situation that adds to our pressures. We need a piece of work to fully understand why we are in the position we are in.”

Since 2015 the number of special school places in the county has increased by 50 per cent and there are now just under 2,000 special school places in Northants.

According to government data in 2018 there were 3,873 pupils in the county with EHCP plans. In the past five years the numbers of primary pupils with EHC plans who now want to be schooled in a special school has risen from 27 per cent to 52 per cent. The numbers of secondary pupils with EHC plans who want to be schooled outside of a mainstream provision has risen from 37 per cent to 68 per cent.

In the most recent financial year the local education authority overspent its high needs budget of £78m by £3.8m. £3.3m of this was spent on out of county places and £500,000 was spent on extra costs in Northants special schools.

By taking the funding out of the overall school’s budget (which is allocated at £475.6m) it means there is less to spend per pupil in Northants' mainstream schools.

Asked when the special schools places both in and out of county would run out Gwen said she was unsure.

She said: “Where there’s a market the independent sector will try and fill it if they can but they are themselves becoming saturated. The whole country is in the same position and more and more children are requesting they have that highly specialist provision.

“It is a systemic problem we have got to go right back to the beginning. Government has got to go right back to the beginning to work out why we have got into this situation.

“Absolutely locally we will be doing that, but we need some national help on that as well.

“Unfortunately there are some young people in our county that we just cannot find provision for.”

Northamptonshire County Council, which is the local education authority, had earmarked £1.25m for a project to look at how to increase special school places as well as reduce the high needs spend. However this project may be in jeopardy as the money may now need to go on helping pupils adjust with anxiety when they return to school after being at home for many months because of the pandemic.

There are proposals to extend places at six existing schools and the building of the new Chelveston Road School in Higham Ferrers was approved last month.A message from the Editor:

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