Schools 'in crisis' over SEND provision in Central Bedfordshire as children with specialist needs sent to mainstream schools

Central Bedfordshire schools "in crisis" over SEND provision as overspend grows, meeting told
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Schools are “in deep crisis” with “a level of desperation” over special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision in Central Bedfordshire, a meeting heard.

Church of England diocese representative Caron Earp told Central Bedfordshire Council’s schools forum something needed saying about the severity of the situation.

A report highlighted how the costs are being driven by increasing numbers of children and young people requiring an education, health and care plan (EHCP).

Parents walk their children to school Nick Ansell/PA WireParents walk their children to school Nick Ansell/PA Wire
Parents walk their children to school Nick Ansell/PA Wire

“There’s currently a forecast overspend of almost £6.6m against the budget of nearly £42m,” said the report.

CBC’s assistant director SEND Helen Phelan explained: “We’re seeing a further increase of the January forecast compared with the previous estimate.

“A substantial amount is our pre-16 out of county placements and other local authority top up payments.

“This is our position in Central Bedfordshire while we develop further specialist provision. We’ve quite a reliance on out of county placements, as we wait for more things to come on stream.

“The forecast for 2023/24 indicates ongoing pressures on the high needs block, with the current rates of demand anticipated to increase before we start to steady.

“The delivering better value programme provides us with an effective tool and a robust implementation plan which we all signed up to, so we’ve got a clear focus on the areas of work necessary.”

Sandy Secondary School principal Karen Hayward, who chairs the forum, asked: “How assured can we be that these children are getting the right packages?

“Some of our secondary school colleagues say they can’t meet their needs, parents are asking for specialist provision and yet the pupils are still coming back to mainstream schools.

“I’m concerned when they ask the SEND team why these plans are progressing they’re told it’s to meet the legal time frames, when it really should be about the best interests of those children.”

Ms Phelan replied: “That’s a wider piece of work having more connection with our secondary headteachers to consider what the offer is and what can be expected from a mainstream secondary school.

“Also it’s what support we can put into those schools, such as outreach help from special schools, and what training is available.”

Ms Earp warned: “We’re in deep crisis on this. What’s being said in this meeting isn’t matched by what’s happening outside.

“There’s a level of desperation. Some of us are involved so heavily in this and make so many phone calls. I don’t know what words to say about how severe this situation is, but I couldn’t sit in this meeting and not mention it.

“I welcome the delivering better value as a long-term strategic answer, but I think there’s a here and now angle.

“As we’re in crisis, it’s costing more money and some of the things you’re suggesting have been done so long already we’re reaching desperation.

“Things are costing more because it’s the most expensive type of help by the time we get it.”

Ms Hayward agreed, saying: “There are many children not being placed appropriately in their education and we’re potentially failing them.”