While the shortfall for mainstream school places across London has reduced, the demand for places for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) is increasing dramatically. The number of pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), requiring specialist provision to meet their needs, has risen by 29 per cent since 2010 in London, and the complexity of these needs is increasing. Local authorities are committed to providing high quality school places for children with SEND. These places cost an average £67,043 per place, which is around three times as much as a mainstream school place.
A London Councils’ survey revealed that all but one London borough had a shortfall in their high needs budgets in 2017/18, amounting to a £78 million shortfall across the capital. Furthermore, local authorities overspent on transport for children with SEND by on average £1 million per borough in 2017/18. One of the key ways in which London boroughs are planning on reducing this shortfall is through creating more high quality local provision. This will reduce the revenue spent on expensive independent and out-of-borough provision, and will also lead to savings in SEN transport budgets by reducing students’ travel times. This is in line with the DfE’s own approach, which involves investing to support local authorities to build more local provision. The Department has provided a welcome £265 million SEND capital fund for all local authorities until 2020/21, and is in the process of running its second special free schools wave.
The local authority duty to secure sufficient school places applies to all children, including those with SEND. For children and young people with SEND, additional or specialist provision may be needed to support education and successful progression.
Reasons for increased demand for SEND places
There are several factors contributing to the rise in the number of children and young people with EHCPs and thus the greater number needing dedicated or specialist school places. Aside from the general population increase, local authorities highlight that the most significant contributor is the fact that the Children and Families Act 2014 extended statutory protections for young people from birth up to the age of 25. This has led to a sharp rise in the number of children and young people with an EHCP (particularly 19 to 25 year olds). There has also been an increase in the accuracy of diagnosis and earlier identification of SEND.
Pressure on SEND places has been compounded by the very rapidly changing characteristics of SEND pupils and the subsequent requirements for dedicated provision. Figure 11 shows significant changes in the characteristics of pupils with SEND attending special schools in London over the last seven years.
The rapid rise in prevalence rates for Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is particularly acute in London (figure 12). Between 2010 and 2018 the number of pupils with ASD in special schools increased by 100 per cent.
Alternative provision (AP) is defined as “education arranged by local authorities for pupils who, because of exclusion, illness or other reasons, would not otherwise receive suitable education; education arranged by schools for pupils on a fixed period exclusion; and pupils being directed by schools to off-site provision to improve their behaviour.”18 This could refer to a range of provision types, including academies or free schools, local authority maintained Pupil Referral Units (PRUs), independent schools, hospitals, further education colleges, one to one tuition, or work based placements. There are currently 3,206 children on roll at AP academies or free schools and maintained PRUs in London19.This figure does not include those that are attending non-schoolbased AP. Local authorities are committed to providing a range of high quality AP for children and young people who would benefit from this type of provision.
Just over half of boroughs that responded to a recent survey said that they did not currently have enough AP to meet demand. Current shortfalls range from 10 to 40 places per local authority across key stages 3 and 4. As with specialist provision, there is an over-reliance on out-of-borough AP that can be more expensive and harder to manage.
The type of AP that is needed to meet demand differs from borough to borough. The provision that boroughs identified being short of includes provision for children and young people with Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs, provision for receptionage children who are not ready for primary school, specialist provision for children exhibiting sexualised behaviour, respite provision for those at risk of permanent exclusion, outreach programmes targeted at engaging highly disaffected pupils, and provision for those on the edge of crime.