Special schools in Gloucestershire find themselves in a precarious situation, dealing with a surge in demand for places coupled with financial challenges. A Member of Parliament (MP) representing Tewkesbury addressed the issues faced by special schools in the region during a parliamentary session on Thursday, January 11.
Acknowledging the commendable work of Alderman Knight School and the Milestone School, the MP highlighted the crucial role these institutions play in providing care and education to children with special needs. However, the MP also pointed out a concerning shortfall of approximately 330 special school places in the county.
Alderman Knight School, originally designed for 120 pupils a decade ago, now accommodates 235 pupils, placing strain on both resources and class sizes. The increase in class sizes is a specific concern, potentially diluting the personalized attention that defines special schools. The MP expressed worries about the sustainability of such a situation, stating, “The problem is that even if additional teachers could be found, and recruitment efforts were successful, budget constraints would hinder their employment.”
The plea in Parliament was not for additional funds but for a more equitable distribution of existing resources. The MP called for a re-evaluation of the outdated formula used to calculate the cost of educating children with special needs, especially those requiring one-to-one support. There was a push for a comprehensive evaluation of the demand and supply of special school places in each region, accompanied by timely proposals to address any shortfalls.
The MP emphasized the need for periodic reassessment as children progress through schools, highlighting the extended timelines often associated with bureaucratic processes. The statement concluded with a call for reflection, stating, “We faced challenges years ago to preserve special school provision in Gloucestershire, and it’s crucial to reassess the situation to ensure these schools continue serving these special children.”
Responding to these concerns, a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education acknowledged the familiar challenges faced by parents navigating the system to secure support for their children. While the government has increased the higher needs budget to £10.5 billion by 2024-25, a 60% rise from 2020, the representative recognized that financial injections alone would not guarantee the desired outcomes.
It was revealed that the government had initiated two programs to support local authorities grappling with financial pressures in their Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) systems. Additionally, a national taskforce has been established to collaborate with local authorities, aiming to enhance their performance.
Addressing concerns beyond monetary constraints, the representative emphasized the implementation of a new legal duty on health commissioners to deliver the health components of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). The representative explained that the government is investing £2.6 billion, with £1.5 billion already allocated, to create new school places and enhance existing facilities for children and young people with SEND or those requiring alternative provision.
Furthermore, the representative outlined the government’s plan to establish a national system with standardized norms, a significant shift from the previously decentralized approach. This ambitious move is seen as an attempt to bring coherence to the support and services provided for special needs children across the nation.
As the dialogue continues, the plea for fairer funding distribution resonates not just in parliamentary discussions but echoes with parents, educators, and communities, as they grapple with the shared responsibility of ensuring a nurturing environment for the special children of Gloucestershire. The collaborative efforts of policymakers, educators, and parents are essential to finding a sustainable solution that safeguards the future of special education in the region.