More than 200 children waiting for special school place to be available in Hertfordshire

The admission was made at a meeting of the county council’s overview and scrutiny committee

Friday, 17th September 2021, 9:05 am

Hundreds of children have started the autumn term waiting for places at special schools to become available, councillors have heard.

Speaking a week after the start of term, director of children’s services Jo Fisher told councillors that there were around 240 children who had been allocated special school places that weren’t available.

And, instead, she said those children had been placed in mainstream schools – with smaller numbers ‘out of school’ or ‘elective home-educating’ – while waiting for special school places to be available.

The image has been used for illustrative purposes

The admission was made at a meeting of the county council’s overview and scrutiny committee, on Wednesday, September 15, in response to a comment by Liberal Democrat Cllr Sara Bedford.

The Abbots Langley councillor had asked for confirmation that no child was without a special school placement for the start of the term, in September. But Ms Fisher had said that was ‘far from the case’.

And she reported to councillors that there was a ‘significant number’ that were still waiting – having been allocated a place at a school where there were no places currently available.

She stressed to the committee that 230 additional special school places had been created in the county in the last two years – with a further 70 added this month.

And she highlighted future plans for 12 specialist resource bases to sit alongside mainstream schools in Hertfordshire, which would provide inclusive support for children with social and communication difficulties and autism.

Meanwhile she also pointed to upcoming national policy such as the upcoming SEND review, which she said was expected to tell authorities to do more to incentivise inclusion of SEND children in mainstream schools.

But following the meeting Cllr Bedford said it was “unbelievable” that so many children were waiting for places in special schools.

“Children who already have disadvantages are being disadvantaged further, by not receiving a suitable education that meets their needs,” she said.

She says placing children in mainstream school while they wait for special school places to become available means they are ‘missing out’.

She highlights the time parents have already taken to secure the EHCP they need to qualify for a special school place – during which time they may be struggling to educate their child at home or to support them in a mainstream school.

And then she says a further wait – in excess of 12 months – for a place at a special school to become available can be ‘heart-breaking’.

She also fears that with increasing numbers of children and young people being assessed for EHCPs the situation is ‘only going to get worse’, despite the council’s plans to increase special school places.

At the meeting of the committee on Wednesday, Ms Fisher had highlighted to councillors the pressures on the service relating to children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

And she pointed to the 126 per cent increase in the number of ‘education health and care plans’ issued since 2014/5, to around 8500.

The EHCP rate – expressed as a rate per 10,000 of the 0-25 population – in Hertfordshire (223.9) is still below the England average (246).

But Ms Fisher highlighted the increase in the number of EHCPs requested and issued, following the pandemic.

She told councillors that since the pandemic – and ‘certainly since the summer’ – there had been a steady increase in requests for EHCPs and in the number going forward for statutory assessment.

She said that as well as ‘pent up demand’ because parents had delayed EHCP requests during the pandemic, there was ‘greater complexity of need’.

And she said parents were increasingly concerned about the impact of the pandemic and loss of school on their child’s education, mental health and wellbeing.

The meeting of the county council’s overview and scrutiny committee can be viewed at www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/watchmeetings.