By Anne Dachel
“The Really Big Lie” is something I’ve written about a number of times over the last 15 years. Usually I specifically talk about “The Really Big Lie about Autism,” namely the eternal claim that all the kids with autism everywhere are merely the result of better diagnosing, expanded definition and greater awareness.
Increases can continue indefinitely and doctors will be given credit for them. In short, all the autism we keep hearing about is nothing to worry about. All we need is early diagnosing and intervention.
Key to this is the fact that experts are never worried and neither is anyone in the media. And now we can expand this mindset to cover the whole situation of exploding special education numbers, especially in Britain.
Stories announcing yet another new special school (with or without a specific mention of autism) typically include a photo of smiling council members or teachers with or without smiling students. To further allay any worry, officials and teachers regularly are quoted using words like, delighted, excited, proud and pleased.
These same stories often include dire sounding statistics as well as the oft repeated, but never explained words, increased demand.
A recent story revealed that there are 160,000 autistic students in schools in England, with 70 percent of them in mainstream schools. That reality makes every classroom a special ed room.
That same story claimed, One in four autistic children wait more than three years to receive the support they need at school, leaving families “exhausted and on the edge of crisis”, according to the National Autistic Society.
Where are all these children coming from? Why isn’t the system able to provide for them?
It’s never discussed.
Here are examples from the past week. One has to wonder how long people in the U.K. can stay delighted, excited, proud and pleased about all the increased demand when they’re paying bills totaling multiple millions so more and more disabled children can to go to school.
Sheffeld: (Central England) Increase in special ed
An extra 300 pupil places desperately need to be found due to rise in children with special needs and mental health problems….
Forecasts predict demand for special school places will rise by 30 per cent over the next five years and could rise to 50 per cent in a “worst case scenario”. Council officer Nicola Shearstone says in a report:
In the last two years, more than 200 additional places have been created – an increase of over 20 per cent – yet it’s still a significant challenge….
…Autism and mental health are the needs underpinning the rising demand for SEND places….
Sheffield Parent Carer Forum said it welcomed the plans to create more special school places because they are desperately needed.
Eva Juusola of the Forum said: “All of our special schools are completely full.
Hertfordshire: (SE England) Increased demand/increased cost
The strategy sets out the county council’s SEND aspirations and priorities for the next three years (2022-25) – taking account of increased demand…
And she highlighted the ‘significantly increased investment’ in SEND funding for mainstream schools – increasing from £9.5m [$12.7M] to £17.5m [$23.4M] this year.
Director of children’s services Jo Fisher acknowledged that case loads in the county’s SEND teams were too high – which, she said, undermined the effectiveness of the teams, as a whole.
And she pointed to a recent £1.5m [$2M] investment into SEND teams, in order to build resilience and capacity of front-line teams to do a good job….
In addition Ms Fisher highlighted 230 new special school places created in the county in the past couple of years – in addition to the creating of an additional 70 places this autumn.
And over the next four years she said there would be more than 340 new special school places – and at least 200 special resource provision places for children with autism and communication difficulties.
Brent: (London Borough) Deficit spending in special ed
A report presented to Brent Council’s schools’ forum showed it expects to spend around £4.6 million [$6.2M] more this year than it receives from a government grant. This is despite the council’s allocation increasing by £5m [$6.7] to help address the increased demand for services.
Council officers put the situation down to an increase in the number of children in Brent needing specialist education, as well as a rise in the number of “complex cases” in the borough. ...
The council report said it will review any extra education packages currently in place for pupils – some of which cost up to £20,000 [$27K-a-year. The council could also introduce top-up charges of five per cent to those providing special needs services, which would result in around £39,000 worth of extra income. It also intends to run a £500,000 [$670,000] pilot scheme that will look at how to improve support for those with special education needs.
Huntingdon: (SE England) New sensory room added
A “hugely successful” sensory room at Huntingdon Primary School has had a much-needed makeover with the aid of £1,000 [$1,300] from Tesco Community Grants.
The room, which provides a calming and therapeutic atmosphere for pupils, was originally set up in 2013 but needed a refurbishment after years of use had left it looking a bit tatty and in need of replacements for broken fittings.
Elaine Lynch, headteacher, said: “We are delighted...
The room is designed to help reduce pupils’ anxiety and to manage emotions ...
St. Ives: (SE England) New special school
A new school for children with special educational needs is to be built on the site of a former golf club in St Ives. Approval has been granted for the former St Ives Golf Course clubhouse, called Fairway Cottage, to be converted into an SEN school.
Once converted, the new school is planned to be run by the Aurora Group and will offer space for 56 pupils, and create up to 20 jobs.
Leeds: (Central England) Special ed numbers rising
Children with special educational needs in Bradford are being encouraged to go to school in Leeds, according to a senior Leeds city councillor….
It follows a report by council officers earlier this month that the number of children in Leeds with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) had more than doubled between 2014 and 2021….
Coun Carter, who represents the Calverley and Farsley ward, told the meeting: “The number of special educational needs children is rising quite rapidly. …
A report by Leeds City Council officers into the authority’s SEND strategy stated that there had been a “dramatic increase” in demand for EHCPs in recent years, with numbers within Leeds increasing from 2,041in 2014, to 5,006.
Newton: (Central England) New Sensory Room at St. Mary’s School
After realising that there was a need within the school, and the wider local community, for a sensory room to support children with special educational need, the idea for a sensory area was born….
Dorset: (SW England) New large special school
The site, bought by Dorset Council earlier in the year for £10million [$13M], is currently being adapted for the first sixty pupils, expected to take up their places at the special school in the new year….
The larger site will be known as the Dorset Centre for Excellence….
Education director for the county Vik Verma broke the news in response to questions about progress being made on the site in preparation for Councillors were told that while the adaptation works were still anticipated to be within the £5million [$6.7M] conversion costs the project had been troubled by both a shortage of construction materials and, at times, construction workers….
The school, which may eventually have around 280 pupils, is to be run by a limited company, wholly owned by Dorset Council, ...
Redbridge: (London borough) Increased funding for autistic students
Redbridge Council has agreed to pay for 28 places for autistic children at Caterham High School, as well as converting an outbuilding into a “dedicated specialist base”.
Cabinet members also agreed to create 21 new places at Newbridge School, which serves children with more complex learning difficulties, by adding a three-classroom “modular” extension.
The four additional places a year at Caterham High School will help meet a “substantial growth in demand” for special needs education in the borough, according to a report prepared for the meeting.
The council also hopes to save money it would otherwise have spent sending children to private or specialist schools. Such places cost an average of £50,000 [$67K] a year, whereas places at Caterham High School will cost just over £20,000 [$27K] annually.
A review of special educational needs in the borough recommended the council aims to create 140 new places for pupils with special educational needs by 2023.
Lancashire: (SW England) Increase of 30 special ed places in local school
The exciting proposals were developed by the County Council after a demand was identified for special school places for children and young people with learning difficulties.
An announcement has been made by Lancashire County Council revealing plans to boost school places for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Thornton-Cleveleys. …
The move will see the creation of up to 30 additional SEND places at Red Marsh School, an outstanding special school for pupils with generic learning difficulties.
At a Cabinet meeting the go-ahead was given to create three additional classes on a separate 'satellite' site that is co-located with Northfold Community Primary School, a mainstream primary.
The proposals come off the back of a series of formal consultations run over the summer, which identified a particular demand for special school places for children and young people with learning difficulties in the Fleetwood/Lytham St Anne's area.
Burgess: (SE England) Construction to begin on new special school
Governors at Woodlands Meed have said the long-awaited construction of a new college for children with special needs will get off to a quiet start. ...
Construction of the new building, for 100 children, should be carried out between February 2022 and March 2023, and fingers are crossed that the final handover will take place on November 15 2023.
It has been more than a decade since Woodlands Meed was told a new college would be built – and nine years since that promise fell through.
Hampden Park: (SE England) New special school under construction
On Thursday, November 11, Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell attended a steel signing ceremony to celebrate the progress that’s been made at the Summerdown SEN School, which is currently under construction. ….
Summerdown, which is expected to open in the autumn of 2022, will create 135 local school places for children aged five–16 with autism, complex learning and medical needs….
Mrs Ansell said, “To see this brand-new SEN school for our town up out of the ground and making such progress is very exciting. “This is a big investment in education in Eastbourne and I am proud...
“I was impressed..."
Isle of Sheppey: (SE England) New special school proposed
...Run by The SABDEN Multi-Academy Trust, it would cater predominantly for those who have social, emotional and mental health difficulties including those with autism and communication difficulties.
The school would be for 11 to 16-year-olds ….
She said: “The new secondary free special school, being provided through the Department for Education (DfE), is much needed and we are very pleased that work on it is progressing….
Meanwhile in Ireland, they’re celebrating the effects of autism.
Kildare, Ireland: School "celebrates" its new autism classroom; everyone wears blue.
The Rathangan school held the celebration to officially open its new ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) classroom and to educate the entire school community about autism. All the children, teachers and staff were dressed in every shade from sea blue to navy.
And even though we’re not building whole schools for autistic students at the rate they are in England, the idea is catching on in the U.S.
New Story Announces New [Autism] School in Independence, Ohio.
Readers were told everything was good.
"I am so excited to open our doors to families in Independence and help our students write new stories of success," said Berry Thompson, Head of the New Story Schools – Independence campus. "We provide exceptional services to families, and I am proud we have the opportunity to do so here in the Independence area."...
"We are excited to make these much-needed improvements to the campus and look forward to the amazing work we'll do together in the New Year once our doors are open."
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.