A Hackney headteacher has called for “urgent” action after hearing from parents that some local children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are only getting one hour of education a day in schools outside the borough.
At a recent children and young people’s scrutiny commission meeting, Richard Brown, executive head at both the Urswick School and pupil referral unit New Regent’s College, relayed reports of poor quality practice from students who had been at New Regent’s before being placed in special schools outside Hackney.
Addressing the Town Hall’s director of education Annie Gammon and high needs head Fran Cox, Brown said: “Can we ensure a piece of work is done to ensure that independent out-of-borough settings are delivering what we are already paying them for?
“When I speak to parents, they tell me about instances where young people are getting an hour’s education a day, or are only there in the mornings. They don’t seem to be getting anything close to 25 hours a week. I think that is an urgent piece of work.
“It probably just involves talking to some parents on the phone to see where this is happening and putting in place things to stop it.”
Cox assured all listening that the council will be undertaking a wide-scale review on the issue, looking at contractual arrangements as well as what systems are in place to monitor exclusion, attendance and progress, encouraging all parents with similar concerns to contact the council.
The meeting heard about the continuing financial impasse faced by the council as the national funding model for SEND by central government remains broken year on year, despite past warnings from Town Hall finance bosses.
According to the Town Hall’s SEND boss Cllr Caroline Woodley, who pledged on her appointment to write to government every month until the problem was fixed, the council’s cumulative funding deficit in this area will come to £13m at the end of the year.
Woodley added: “We don’t have any clear assurances from government as yet as to how we might reduce that amount, and that is something that we have been regularly writing to the Secretary of State about.
“This is a national issue of great concern. We need to look at how best to increase places in the borough.”
Demand for SEND services continues to increase, with requests for Education, Health & Care Plans (EHCPs) seeing close to a 17 per cent annual increase for each of the past two years.
Gammon explained that the rise stemmed from reforms in 2014 that extended provision up to the age of 25, as well as an increase in the number of children being diagnosed with autism.
According to Cox, Hackney has improved from 40 per cent of EHCPs being completed within statutory timescales to 69 per cent, in comparison to a national average of 58 per cent of plans being completed on time.
Cox told councillors that an aspiration of the council over the next decade is the development of enough in-borough provision that “only the very most complex children would need to seek an out-of-borough independent place”.
Grilled by Cllr Margaret Gordon as to whether falling pupil rolls at many of Hackney’s schools provides “an opportunity to unlock some of the existing buildings and provide more specialist SEND places”, Gammon confirmed that this formed part of the council’s thinking.