Cuts could hit the need­i­est

The Chronicle - - News - By LAURA HILL Re­porter laura.hill@reach­plc.com

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.”

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