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Cost of sending SEND pupils to Kent private schools tripled to £84m last year, expert claims

The cost of sending children with special educational needs to private schools has tripled in the past five years, an expert on the subject has claimed.

Kent education expert Peter Read says one pupil alone costs £350,000 a year, while there are up to ten others who have a price tag of more than £200,000 each.

Children with SEND may now be increasingly placed in mainstream schools rather than private special schools
Children with SEND may now be increasingly placed in mainstream schools rather than private special schools

Mr Read, a former head at a grammar school in the county, says figures from a Freedom of Information (FOII) request show the cost of such provision was £28m in 2019 and soared to £84m in 2022-23.

The revelations came as it emerged Kent County Council (KCC), as the education authority, is seeking ways to cut the cost of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

A draft SEND Continuum of Need, published earlier this month, identifies the need for mainstream schools to do more for children with SEND.

Mr Read said: “KCC is in an impossible position due mainly to past failures and one of the main problems they have got is the exorbitant expenditure on private special schools.”

His FOI requests revealed KCC pays for 1,687 SEND pupils in private schools.

Mr Read has claimed the problem is “not fixable”, adding :“This is because of the cost of private schools but also the cost of Covid. This has created a considerable amount of special needs which is working its way through the system.

Peter Read
Peter Read

“There are still children who as a result of Covid have serious long term mental health conditions”

By law, KCC must support children, young people, and families, with SEND. In 2019, the joint inspection by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission identified nine areas of weakness in KCC’s provision.

Inspectors found “a variable quality of provision and commitment to inclusion in schools, and a lack of willingness of some schools to accommodate children and young people with SEND”.

In a report published by the Times Educational Supplement (TES), concerns were raised that the reforms suggested by KCC are being primarily driven by a need “to bring down spending because the council is signed up to a Safety Valve deal with the government to remove a high needs deficit of more than £140 million”.

KCC is among 38 councils in the country signed up to the Safety Valve deal after sustaining big deficits on their high-needs budgets, which fund school places and top-up funding for pupils with SEND.

TES says the KCC report suggests mainstream secondary schools will be expected to be able to meet the needs of pupils who are working six to seven years below their chronological age in terms of cognition and learning.

Mainstream primary schools will cater for pupils who are four to five years below.

KCC is seeking ways to reduce the bill for SEND pupils FM4554055
KCC is seeking ways to reduce the bill for SEND pupils FM4554055

It also says that mainstream primaries and secondaries would take on pupils who have processing and memory difficulties, global development delay and who need an adapted curriculum.

The TES quoted a “school leader” in Kent as saying: “Mainstream schools are going to be required to deliver all of the interventions needed to meet the needs of these pupils, which will require enormous amounts of retraining, a huge amount of upskilling and a lot of investment.

“The costs for mainstream schools associated with all of this haven’t been quantified.”

A council set a target, after the Ofsted and CQC findings, of having 80% of all pupils currently with education, health care plans (EHCPs) tio be educated in mainstream schools by the end of last year.

Margaret Mulholland, the SEND and inclusion specialist for the Association of School and College Leaders, said that schools support pupils with more complex needs “as best they can”.

KCC member Trudy Dean
KCC member Trudy Dean

She told TES: “We understand that many local authorities are in a very difficult financial position, but the solution cannot be to keep placing more demands on schools without giving them the tools they need to cope with them,” she said.

“The government needs to get a handle on this crisis by ensuring more SEND funding reaches the schools and learners who need it most.”

KCC also proposes a new system of designations for the county’s 24 special schools, which could affect the re-classification of around a third.

Liberal Democrat member Cllr Trudy Dean said she understood the redesignation plan opposed by special-school heads across the county and wondered how much of it w as “driven or dictated to” by the Safety Valve agreement.

Cabinet member for schools Cllr Rory Love said: “We need to continue to bring our own spending back in line with the level for which we are funding.

“That is also part of our commitment under the Safety Valve - something that had we done in past years, we wouldn’t have had to go to the DfE and ask for the debt to be written off and by doing that, sparing that debt eventually falling onto the council taxpayer.”

Cllr Rory Love, KCC schools chief
Cllr Rory Love, KCC schools chief

KCC said: "Head teachers of special schools and mainstream schools as well as multi-academy trust chief executives have been engaged in this review over the last year, and they will continue to have an important role in helping to shape its outcome, which is not yet finished.

"In addition to funding for EHCPs, roughly £13.5 million in High Needs Funding is distributed annually to mainstream schools to provide extra support for pupils who do not have an EHCP. This is on top of the investment of £8 million a year in support services (not including health services which are in addition).

"KCC is working collaboratively with leaders to find ways to distribute the funding in a more equitable, efficient and impactful way to benefit both pupils and schools.

"Financial sustainability is a key concern. KCC is encouraged to see evidence is now emerging of the improvements that are being made to the SEND system and we continue to review the way we work to ensure children are able to learn in safe and appropriate environments, suitable for their needs.”

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