Anne Dachel continues to catalog the thousands of stories about the explosion in Special Education. They stories may seem repetitive. But think about the children whose lives have been shunted off the main track into the morass of special education. Think about the parents grieving, worrying, angry, fighting for their kids. We need to keep shouting, and Anne sure does at Loss of Brain Trust, her site.
It’s all about the money, at least as far as the U.K. is concerned. Ever increasing numbers of disabled students cost more and more. Local county councils try to keep up, but as we’re seeing, there’s a “funding black hole”/‘bottomless pit’ when it comes to special education.
Here are examples from stories last week in the U.K.:
Hull: Northcott Special School in Bransholme is to extend its age limit for pupils A £1.5m [$1.9M] package of upgrades at four Hull schools aimed specifically for pupils with special educational needs has been approved by councillors. The largest spend will take place at Northcott Special School in Dulverton Close in Bransholme where £600,000 [$750,000] is being allocated to expand the age range of the school from five to 16 to three to 19.
Overall, it will see the school's overall capacity increase to a total of 200 places.
Rotherham: The council, along with many other local authorities across the UK, faces a funding deficit due to the growth in demand for special educational needs (SEND) provision exceeding the government funding provided.
The agreement will see the DfE invest £20.5m [$26M] to address the deficit over the lifespan of the agreement – from 2021/22 to 2025/26. …
“Rotherham, like lots of other places, the cost of providing [education for youngsters with SEND] has exceeded the amount of money that’s been available through that every year, which puts you in a strange kind of limbo position about where that money comes from….
Brockenhurst: BROCKENHURST residents have been invited to have their say on plans for a new £4.9m [$6.2M] special needs hub at the college….
“The new development would help us build on our strong reputation as a provider of SEND and foundation studies education, while also expanding our teaching space to support the ongoing demographic increase in 16-19 learners.”
Merton: Merton Council has been given a £28.8 million [$36.7M] bailout by the government after it faced a huge gap in its school funding.
The Department for Education stepped in after the authority was identified as having a “very high deficit” in its dedicated schools grant.
In its 2022-26 business plan which was approved in March, the council said part of the strain on the budget is an increase in demand for special needs school placements which has grew from 1,075 in 2016 to 2,252 in 2020. In the report it said 80 new SEND places will be created in 2022 which it hopes will reduce the need to rely on private schools.
Lancashire: Plans to expand Morecambe Road School in Lancaster are set to take a key step next week. Lancashire County Council is proposing to expand this special school with the creation of 34 additional places, 12 of those being in a satellite unit at nearby Lancaster and Morecambe College. …
At its meeting on Thursday 5 May, the county council's cabinet is expected to agree a recommendation to initiate a formal consultation to increase the number of special school places by 22. This will be created through the building of additional teaching space on the main school site….
…This would increase the overall number of places to 189.
Kent: The director for education at Kent County Council (KCC) has described the county's special educational needs (SEN) system as a “bottomless pit".
Data collected by The Bureau for Investigative Journalism has found that KCC's deficit for such provisions has reached £103m [$129M] – in cash terms, the largest in the country - and it will take five years for the authority to break even again….
The investigation has found the main problem is the fact that funding has failed to keep up with demand for EHCPs and SEN school places - currently 260,824 pupils have special educational needs in Kent.
This has created a fast-growing financial black hole at the heart of the system and the shortfall in England hit £1.3bn [$1.6B] in March – an increase of more than £450m [$563M] in the past year alone, but Kent's financial position has been found to be the worst in the country.
Dinnington: The name of new school in Dinnington for children with social, emotional and mental health needs has been announced.
Elements Academy is being built on the former Dinnington College site and is on course to open in September.
It will be the only one of its kind in the borough and will meet the growing need for specialist provision, underlining Rotherham Council’s on-going commitment to bolster places for children with special educational needs and meet increasing demand.
Social, emotional and mental health, or SEMH, issues can include a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, attachment issues, a diagnosed mental illness such as depression or anxiety and sometimes includes mental health issues experienced by children and young people with autism spectrum conditions….
Bucks: SEND refers to children with special educational needs and/or disabilities, a particular area of concern is the extensive wait times families face in Bucks trying to discover whether their children are autistic. …
Ofsted’s findings show that the average waiting time to see a community paediatrician remain at 62 weeks.
The report states, “this is not acceptable.” Ofsted found this issue predates the pandemic, but has worsened with officials unable to keep up with demand in the county.
Similarly damning, the average wait time for assessments on diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is 559 days. The longest wait recorded was 811 days….
Aside from the local stories of the tidal wave of SPED kids, there were some really concerning national ones.
One report acknowledged that kids are “waiting up to five years” for an autism assessment in Britain.
YEARS OF WAITING
Eva is not alone in her struggle. Statistics gathered by The Observer under the Freedom of Information Act show 2,835 autistic children are still waiting for their first appointment, an average of 88 weeks after being referred at the Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust. As of January 2022, the longest wait reported was 251 weeks, a nearly five-year wait.
However, children with autism are not the only ones waiting months for their first appointment. More than 1,200 children with referrals for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at the trust have been waiting an average of 46 weeks for their first appointment, with the longest wait spanning 195 weeks.
A spokesperson for Coventry and Warwickshire CCG has acknowledged that the waiting period for autism and ADHD assessments is longer than is acceptable and said: “We are investing £5.4 million [$6.8M] in additional diagnostic capacity.”…
…A five-year wait is a problem that needs a solution, not only from NHS trusts but from the UK Government. Due to the increase in neurodivergent individuals and autism diagnoses, advocates are calling for the support of neurodivergent children to be part of the short-term NHS plan with a strategy that prioritizes increasing diagnostic capacity….
Schools Week published a stunning report entitled, The spiralling cost of a broken SEND system.
Seventy-five percent of county councils are in trouble.
Three-quarters of councils now have high needs financial blackholes, with many rejecting large numbers of requests for special needs support
A financial black hole at the heart of the SEND system has ballooned to £1.3 billion [$1.6B] this year, an increase of more than £450 million [$562M] in just 12 months as the places crisis bites.
The spiralling local authority deficits reveal the costly toll of a broken system.
The dual pressures of rising demand and increasing complexity of need have left councils without enough state-funded provision to cope and hugely reliant on costly independent schools.
For instance, spending on private school places by cash-strapped councils handed government bailouts to keep afloat has risen by two thirds. The recent SEND review attempts to solve the cost problem at the start – by keeping more children in mainstream schooling to dampen rising demand….
But a spokesperson for the Local Government Association said: “Meeting the year-on-year increase in demand for SEND support is one of the biggest challenges that councils are dealing with.
“Councils lack the levers to bring this spending under control, and this is a key issue that needs to be addressed.”…
Deals totalling £400 million [$500M] with 14 councils have been reached so far, with more in the pipeline.
Another Schools Week story had this title: No place to go: Special schools’ capacity crisis revealed.
Leaders convert staffrooms and therapy spaces amid surge in pupils with special needs Special school leaders are being forced to cram vulnerable pupils into converted therapy spaces and staffrooms as surging demand and scarce places elsewhere pushes them over capacity.
New figures shed light for the first time on the places crisis in state-funded special schools – some of which are breaching building safety guidelines because pupils have nowhere else to go.
As well as pushing special schools over capacity, councils are forced to place more youngsters in costly independent schools – pushing their high-needs funding black hole to £1.3 [$1.6M] billion. …
The failure to keep up with rising needs also comes despite more than £380 million [$475M] being spent on expansions, new buildings or new schools in the 51 councils that responded to our request. ...
Schools are being forced into an impossible position – and no one has a grip on it Nationwide, the number of pupils with EHCPs has risen from 237,000 in 2015-16 (2.8 per cent of all pupils) to 326,000 last year (3.7 per cent).
The number of children with autism listed as their primary need as soared from 66,723 in 2017 to 92,567. Children with severe learning difficulties has risen from 29,532 to 31,300. ...
Finally, from the U.S., was the strange publication from Vanderbilt University by Zachary E. Warren, PhD, Associate professor of Education.
Warren’s photo showing a relaxed, smiling academic belied his message on the video. He noted the continuing increase in autism without citing any reasonable explanation. Warren merely called for more inclusion and services.
You know, most of us don’t have to look too far to find a connection to autism in our lives, right? Whether that be our own family or our neighbors or our schools, our classrooms, our communities, right? I think having this data about how common autism is allows us to think about, well, how can we actually integrate individuals and include meaningfully autism into universities, medical centers, employment situations, our families, our broader communities. That number derives from the fact that we have to do that, right?
And we’ll have to keep on doing that with greater and greater numbers because autism is never going to level out, right?
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.