Hemel Hempstead mum calls for more support for children with special educational needs
The council has increased investment into SEND funding in mainstream schools in Hertfordshire from £9.5m to £17.5m
A mum from Hemel Hempstead is calling on the Government to do more to support local authorities when it comes to finding places for children with special needs.
Jennifer Gover, of Nash Mills, has been fighting to find a place at a specialist school for her four-year-old daughter Ava Willats, who is non verbal and autistic.
The 35-year-old has praised Jack in the Box, a nursery in Kings Langley for the support it has given her, and says she is not criticising Hertfordshire County Council - but wants more to be done.
Hertfordshire County Council has increased investment into SEND funding in mainstream schools across the country from £9.5m to £17.5m this year.
The Department for Education says it is supporting councils by making £2.6 billion available over the next three years to deliver new places and improve existing provision for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.
Jennifer said: "Staff at Jack in the Box have been my guardian angels. They have put me on courses and helped me with training and offered general support, they are always there if I need them, they have been brilliant.
"This is not an attack on the local authority, Hertfordshire County Council are doing what they can, but there are not enough places, not enough schools and not enough support.
"The government should be doing more to support the local authorities, they should provide more funding for their education.
"The council can not help, there are no spaces at special education schools."
After months of trying to get Ava the support she needed, Jennifer finally managed to arrange an appointment with the paediatric team and then Ava was eventually put forward for an EHCP (Education and Health Care Plan).
This is a document that sets out the education, healthcare and social care needs of a child for whom extra support is needed in school, beyond that which the school can provide.
Jen said: "Now, after almost two and a half years of fighting, Ava has a place at Woodfield School for Special Needs in Hemel, but there is a four-year waiting list.
"Which means she won't start there until she is eight, people do move around for whatever reason, so it might not be four years, but that's what we are looking at.
"It is not the school or council's fault - there are just no places and more needs to be done.
"The local authorities have no choice but to send her to mainstream - where Ava would be uncomfortable, unhappy and it would be unfair to other children and the teacher - as there are just no places. There are not enough special schools.
"I did not want Ava to go to mainstream school, so I continued to fight and over the last seven days we have found out that she has a place at Carter's Sunflowers Nursery - a non profit CIC - and she will start next September.
"Carters are amazing and they are trying to raise awareness of the problem too.
"They are an alternative setting and can take children up to the age of eight.
"The council should support more places like this, giving parents who have to wait four years for full time education more options.
"In September, when she starts at Carters I will have to travel to Welwyn Garden City.
"I think we can get some assistance with travel, I know a few children get taxis, but I'm not happy for Ava to do that, she is non verbal and I wouldn't want her travelling by herself.
"There are just not enough places for SEN children. More and more children are being diagnosed at an earlier stage, and we are becoming more aware, but with that we also need to ensure that they have access to education.
"I have heard that the council has said in five years they will have more spaces in special education needs settings, but we need something now.
"I was so ignorant to it before we had Ava, I knew it was hard to get school places, but I didn't realise just how hard.
"There are parents who do not have the support I have received from Jack in the Box, the support we have had is incredible.
"The government could do more and support the local authority who can then go on and support the children and parents.
"It is about them having an independent life."
A spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said: “While we cannot comment on individual cases, we are fully committed to making sure that all children with SEND and EHCPs in Hertfordshire receive the support they need and deserve, and work in partnership with young people, parents and schools to achieve that end.
"We know how important this is to our families - we share their vision and are working hard to ensure that every child can achieve their potential in all areas of life.
“The demand for SEND support continues to increase, raising challenges both nationally and here in Hertfordshire. In common with many local authorities, we are experiencing a high demand for specialist provision, with a 37% increase in pupils with Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) over the last three years, as well as the additional challenges due to COVID-19.
“We have recognised there has been a gap in specialist provision and, as a result, we have taken on considerable work to identify the needs of children and young people, and the best provision to meet those needs.
"This has included significantly increasing our investment into SEND funding in mainstream schools across the county from £9.5m to £17.5m this year.
"Our Special School Place Planning Strategy 2020-23 sets out our commitment and investment to create over 300 new permanent special school places, and the development of a countywide pattern of specialist resource provision in mainstream schools.
"We will continue to work hard with families to make sure that their children’s needs are met and that they are happy with the support received.”
"We are supporting them to meet this duty by making £2.6 billion available over the next three years to deliver new places and improve existing provision for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, or who require alternative provision.”