Cuts could hit the neediest
CHARITY Mencap fears council cuts will hit the life chances of children with special educational needs.
Gateshead Council looks to pull funding for some special school places for over 16s.
Year 14 classes, which are offered to SEN pupils to allow them to study at sixth form over three years, are to be scrapped and year 13 places will only be offered to those with profound and multiple learning difficulties or severe autism.
A report to the council said talks have taken place with headteachers from Cedars Academy and Hill Top to reduce the number of pupils from next September.
The local authority said the cuts are needed as the services are under financial pressure and they overspent by £1.4m last year.
The council said there has been “a substantial increase” in the number of post-16 pupils remaining in Gateshead special schools over recent years. The commissioned number is 41 but in the 2017/18 academic year, 69 pupils were enrolled.
Mencap said the cuts will restrict choices for young people.
The chaity’s James Robinson, said: “When funding is short, the cuts seem to increasingly fall on children with special educational needs whose support is seen as more expensive.
“There should be a range of education and training options available for pupils with SEN to enable them to continue their education or training beyond the compulsory school age.
“The SEN Code of Practice is clear that young people should be the driver behind their own provision, so anything that restricts this choice risks jeopardising their future life chances.”
The council’s cabinet had been due to vote on the proposals next week but have pulled the discussion from agenda, claiming it now wants to have “further discussions” before making a decision.
The council’s Caroline O’Neill, said: “No decisions have been taken yet on the issue of post 16 education for young people with special educational needs and disabilities and the council wants to have further discussions around what we can do to best support them.
“Our review of funding year 13 and 14 (or second and third year) places at sixth forms within special schools is not just about relieving the increased pressure on our budgets but about widening the possibilities for young people.
“Continuing at school is not the only option and may not always be in the best interests of the young person. Some have already spent time in sixth form, and like many young people, want to access other opportunities.
“We have some young people in Gateshead who have successfully transferred from special schools to vocational courses and then into employment. If we continue to fund these places we may not be providing the opportunities which could help our young people be better prepared for adulthood.”
Since 2015, Department for Education guidelines state all pupils must be in education or training until they turn 18, but by scrapping year 13 at special schools this would make that more difficult for SEN teenagers.
A DfE spokesman said: “We have undertaken the biggest special educational needs reforms in a generation, including the introduction of Education Health and Care plans which provide tailored support based on individual-needs and can continue up to 25. In addition, the high needs funding has risen from £5b in 2013 to over £6b this year. In fact, in 201819 Gateshead has received £22.1m to support children with special educational needs.”