Schooling for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in Lancashire needs to be more inclusive, councillors have been told.
A meeting of Lancashire County Council’s cabinet heard that there is a significantly lower proportion of young people with SEND being educated in mainstream schools in the county than is the case nationally. That is in spite of the fact that legislation introduced five years ago encourages the integration of SEND pupils in mainstream settings, with additional support provided if needed.
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Currently, there are almost 10 percent more children with an education, health and care plan (EHCP) who attend special schools in Lancashire compared to the national picture – equating to 690 pupils.
The proportion of the EHCP cohort which goes to council or independently-run special schools in Lancashire is 48.4 percent, whereas across the country, the figure stands at 38.6 percent.
“The balance of support for children and young people is in the wrong direction,” County Cllr Phillippa Williamson, cabinet member for schools, said.
“We have got too few children’s needs being met in mainstream schools. The lack of access to support in mainstream schools and local specialist provision for those with the most complex needs is resulting in some of our children travelling huge distances outside of their community to get their education,” she added.
The meeting also heard that only a tiny fraction – 0.4 percent – of pupils with an EHCP attend special educational needs units within mainstream schools in the county, leaving the facilities under-utilised. Such units provide additional resources for young people with issues including hearing impairment, speech, language and communication difficulties and specific learning disabilities.
Cabinet members approved a new framework designed to improve outcomes for SEND children, enhance the additional support which they receive in mainstream settings and provide a consistent educational offering in which parents and carers are given choice and equal access.
It is estimated that Lancashire will need to find places for an additional 270 children with SEND over the next five years, 108 of which are likely to require special school provision.
The meeting heard that the so-called “high needs block” of funding which supports SEND provision is under pressure both locally and nationally – with Lancashire’s level of special school attendance resulting in “significantly increased cost”.