The Price of Educating the Disabled in Britain
By Anne Dachel
Almost every day British news sites announce yet another new school for special needs kids who cannot be educated in mainstream schools.
Invariably these stories contain phrases like “growing need” and “increasing demand,” that no one ever bothers to explain.
Actually it really doesn’t matter because there are always the educators and county officials who are all excited and positive sounding about multi-millions in special ed spending.
Occasionally there is a really concerning story about what more and more disabled students are costing local governments. No one has any long-term interest in pursuing this, however.
On October 7, 2021 there was an article in the Evening Standard that actually called the situation a “funding crisis.”
The piece revealed that “more than a quarter of headteachers [are] having to make cuts to balance their budgets.”
A poll of London schools found 28 per cent have made cuts this year and 35 per cent expect they will be forced to do the same next year. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which carried out the research, said the crisis is a result of 10 years of underfunding.
One headteacher was quoted saying, “We are at crisis point. It is heartbreaking to always be talking about budgets when someone comes to you asking for a new set of picture books.”…
The cost of special ed is a big part of the picture.
Funding for children with special educational needs has been particularly badly impacted by under-investment, schools said.
Headteachers in London were questioned by the NAHT for its funding survey, which also revealed nearly one-third of school leaders predict a deficit budget in 2021-22. Almost all (95 per cent) of headteachers said funding for pupils with special educational needs in their school is insufficient.
The Department of Education responded to all this by saying they are providing billions more in funding.
“This Government is providing the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade — £14 billion in total over the three years. This is a £7.1 billion [$9.7B] increase in funding for schools compared to 2019-20.”
No matter how big the funding increases are, they are never big enough.
A brief piece from Hertfordshire in southern England showed how this is all playing out.
Liberal Democrat Councillors have expressed concern and disappointment in the £5.5m [$7.5M] slippage of vital special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) capital spend from the current year.
Readers were told, “Given the continuing increase in demand for education, health and care plans (ECHP) and the council’s failure to deliver for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), it is shocking that HCC has not expedited this much needed expenditure to provide essential facilities for young people with SEND across Hertfordshire.”
That is, of course, the “given” in all these stories. THERE IS INCREASED DEMAND. That is always the given. It’s the situation we need to deal with, no questions asked.
Likewise a story on October 8th from Bedfordshire in SE England showed the impact of rising demand.
The county council there has no school places for 52 special needs students. They said they were at ‘rock bottom.’ A mother cited in the piece talked about how she has “battled for four years for help for her autistic son.”
Meanwhile there seems to be no end in sight to the number of “special schools” opening in England, and people couldn’t be happier about it. How could anything be really wrong here when we’re told how “amazing” it is and how “excited” everyone is?
These are the stories I found over the past week. (And I’m sure I missed a few.)
Luton: (E. England) New special secondary school for 120 students opened.
The Creating Tomorrow Trust and Luton Borough Council (LBC) worked together on the school due to the increased demand for secondary for children and young people with SEND.
The town’s three other special schools were full, so Windmill Hill School provides much-needed extra capacity in Luton. Kevin Latham, Chief Executive Office, Windmill Hill School, added: “We are both excited and privileged in equal measures to be given the opportunity to work with Luton Council to develop a high-quality provision that compliments the current fantastic special schools in Luton….
Pembrokeshire: (SW of Wales) Here the council has allotted more funds for special schools.
A report to members by the director of education and the director of resources will recommend investment of £20.3m [$28M] at Portfield School, which provides education for pupils with statements of special educational needs aged between three and 19.
It will also recommend investment of £18.2m [$25M] at the Neyland site of the Pembrokeshire Learning Centre, which provides education for pupils aged between 11 and 16 with complex needs…
Portsmouth: (S. central England) A story announced a new preschool “for children who need additional support” along with more special needs places at two other schools.
It follows Portsmouth City Council making funds available to help 21 mainstream schools in the city to become even more inclusive for children with special needs.
Wisbech: (E. England) Local D of E is searching for a site for a special needs school.
“The work with the sponsor for the 60 place social, emotional and mental health school, which will share the Barton Road site with the proposed secondary school, is progressing well and is still on track to be delivered by September 2023.”…
Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales: The local county council is looking into building a new special school (in addition to the four they currently have serving a total of 600 students) to “cope with increasing pupil numbers.”
The increases are ongoing, and not only are there more special needs students, but their disabilities are more complex—something that needs to be explained, but never is.
The cabinet report said there had been a consistent increase in learner numbers in both Ysgol Hen Felin and Ysgol Ty Coch with the former going up from 169 back in 2016/2017 to 191 in September of this year and Ysgol Ty Coch increasing from 137 in 2016/2017 to 185 this year….
The report said it was not just the increasing numbers that needed to be catered for but it was also the increase in the complexities of the children’s needs and the staffing numbers required to meet need.
The report also said it seemed “inevitable” that the number of pupils would continue to grow over the next five to 10 years with options to extend the current sites now limited….
The cabinet report said the only feasible alternative was to build a brand new provision on a new site, growing the special school provision within the county borough and increasing the number of special schools from four to five.
The report said: “The benefits to the council will include financial benefits in terms of cost avoidance in relation to very costly out of county placements for learners with the most complex medical and health needs….
Councillor Joy Rosser, the cabinet member for education, said the number of pupils at special schools in RCT had risen from 483 in 2014 to 600 this year, an increase of 24%. She also said that there had been an increase in the complexity of need as well as the numbers of pupils.
On councillor called all this, ‘excellent news.’
Eastbourne: (SE England) Plans set for a new special school to open in 2022.
The new school will create 135 local school places for children aged five–16 with autism, complex learning and medical needs, according to a Morgan Sindall Construction spokesperson….
Harlow: (SE England) New special school for 64 students and 15 residential ones proposed.
Spalding: (E. England) $9.8M project to expand special ed services
This extension will cater for 58 primary school students and 69 secondary school students, with an overall capacity of 127 students.
It’s part of a $117M investment in special ed in Lincolnshire so the county doesn’t have to pay the exorbitant cost of outsourcing special ed services.
Northumberland: (N. England) The local special school is relocating “to cope with a ‘steady upward trend’ in demand for places…”
There’s more autism.
“Some of the key issues highlighted include the number of children and young people in Northumberland who have been diagnosed with autism,” said Sue Aviston, the county council’s head of school organisation and resources.
- Yorkshire: (N. England) A new special school for 100 students is in the works.
Things are going to get far worse: a 24 percent increase in the next five years is predicted.
There are currently 3,574 children in North Yorkshire with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans, which is a 102 per cent increase on the same point in 2015.
That number is expected to rise by 24 per cent over the next five years to 4,225 children and young people in 2026. The greatest areas of increase are in pupils identified with communication and interaction needs and children identified with social, emotional and mental health needs….
Northern Ireland: There is a severe lack of services for children with dyslexia in the six counties there.
The EA also revealed that almost 200 children were currently on a waiting list for “direct intervention” support for their dyslexia.
We were told that special services were ‘under considerable strain and not delivering as they need be’ because of “the increasing number of pupils with special educational needs, including children with dyslexia.”
EA officials later agreed that the data on the prevalence of dyslexic pupils “isn’t as informative as we’d want it to be at this present time”. Cynthia Currie, from the EA, said that it was “difficult to pinpoint exactly” the number of schoolchildren in Northern Ireland who had dyslexia.
But she said that Department of Education census data indicated that “over 9,300 children have been listed as dyslexia or specific literacy difficulties” in the 2020/21 school year. She said that 1,621 children had a statement of SEN where dyslexia was named as a primary or additional special need.
- Yorkshire: Another story from N. Yorkshire laments the lack of residential places for children with autism. The county council is proposing to expand a residential school there.
The story left us with this chilling statement:
The number of children with complex needs relating to Autism Spectrum Disorder is expected to continue to grow over the coming years.
Twickenham: (SW London) New elem school for 28 special needs kids has opened.
One of the councillors explained it this way:
“There is an increased recognition of the need to ensure that young people who have speech, learning and communication difficulties are being properly managed within the education system….”
With the increased demand for specialist schools,…
“We are always looking to see where we can expand the provisions that we’re making….
The headteacher said things were ‘great’ and ‘fantastic.’
Salisbury: (S. central England) New autism school is scheduled to open.
SAIL Academy will provide 150 places for children and young people with autistic spectrum conditions (ASC) and for those with social and emotional and mental health needs (SEMH)…
One official said he was ‘extremely proud’ and things were ‘great’ and ‘exciting.’
Shaftesbury: (About 20 miles away from Salisbury) a new special school has a new principal. The school will open in 2022 with plans to “grow to around 280 students over the next five years….”
This is being done ‘to meet growing needs.’
Dorset Council took the step of securing the extensive site to meet the growing need for more high-quality special education provision. The new school is part of the council’s wider £37.5 million [$52M] plan to improve the lives of Dorset children with SEND. More provision is also being created at existing special and mainstream schools.
One councillor said he was ‘delighted’ and ‘proud’ of how things were going.
This is what I’ve found from just over one week in the British press. Next week will be more of the same. I cannot explain why there is no national alarm or even just concern over what’s happening. There has to be a reason why demand is always increasing and never enough funding.
I also can’t explain why there is almost nothing in the American news about the impact of increasing special needs students. It seems our only concern is COVID at the moment.