Special Educational Needs

Council’s Vision on Special Needs Education is blind to Brackensdale School’s success.

Last week, David Hall, the Head of Brackensdale Junior School made a presentation to parents and members of the community on Derby City Council’s proposed changes to the Vision for Special Needs (SEN) children. He has spent the last 20 years  creating a well-respected provision for SEN children in a mainstream school – and the Vision is to remove it – the disappointment was evident.

One point that the Vision states repeatedly is that it is NOT about saving costs; the overall budget of around £55m remains constant.  The principle objectives are around:

  • Ensuring that the child’s holistic needs are understood, agreed by all parties, and that the educational provision is at the ‘lowest level of need’.
  • Children to be schooled locally wherever possible – some children have been placed at schools outside of Derby City which, apart from being remote from the family, are more expensive to the Local Authority
  • Improve joined up working, communications and co-ordination between all groups, including parents “rather than them having to battle with several separate services that address their issues partially”

[ ‘Lowest level of need’ means, for example,  that a child will not be placed in a Special School if an Enhanced Resource School is satisfactory for their needs]

As a Vision,  it is largely common sense and  would gain popular support.

I have yet to meet any parents with SEN children who have not had years of “battling” with the Council on

  • Agreement that their child has ‘needs’
  • Documentation of ‘needs’ and an agreed Education, Health and Care plan that secures the appropriate education for their child
  • Funding
  • Poor timeliness, co-ordination, and communications

Something which improves these would be most welcomed.

However, of the 57 page consultation document no space is given to how these issues will be transformed from the current poor state. The document focuses on the changes to “pathways” through education and school placement numbers.  It is in this respect that the “vision” for Brackensdale is revealed.

Brackensdale Junior’s specialism is for children with autism. The team, led by David Hall, has developed the facilities, resources, and experience within the City in creating an environment within a mainstream setting, which is sensitive to the wide range of needs of children on the Autism spectrum, and has demonstrably provided many children, over the years, with a quality education.

Based on feedback from parents, then it is clear that the school  is delivering a very successful outcome for the children.

In this context, it is unclear why the Council have decided to propose a vision which cuts that provision in the mainstream school completely.  (NB The specialist Phoenix unit at Brackensdale remains). To compound this,  Meadow Farm Primary in Chaddesden which, currently has no Enhanced Resource places for children with autism, will be increased to 14.

(NB This proposal will not affect children currently at Brackensdale)

An insight into why the Council seems to have taken this step was evident from the presentation given to David Hall by Gurmail Nizzer – Head of School Organisation and Provision. In it Nizzer stated that it was the Head and the Governors had called for this reduction – this was not true.

On this basis it would appear that the proposal was made, in part, by the Council on an erroneous assumption.

Hall, and others, were involved in the meetings in the lead up to the publication of this document. However, the version that was issued during the school holidays in 2017, seemed to bear little comparison to the substance of their previous conversations.

The other critical point that David Hall highlighted was that of effective use of funding. Essentially, with each SEN child comes funding. If there is 1 child, the funding can be of limited value; when there is a significant proportion (Brackensdale has 51% SEN), then economies of scale can be achieved.  Whilst the funding, expressed in Pounds, may not change as it is distributed across more schools, the value extracted from that money will be considerably less – this is a vital point which this Vision seems to have overlooked.

Comment

The popular adage is pertinent here – “ if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Brackensdale Juniors is the one part that “ain’t broke” , and this vision will rely on their experience and skill for the future of this service.

The part that is fundamentally  “broken” is the interaction between the Council and parents, and the “battles” that they have to be fought to secure and protect their child’s education. This report is silent on this matter – this vision relies on this being transformationally “fixed”.

Post Script

Two proposals were made by the Council’s Executive Scrutiny Board to the Cabinet and which were accepted:

  1. Proposals not implemented until all conversions from Statements to EHCPs have been completed
  2. A pathway clarifying the EHCP process is included in the consultation document.

The base plan is for this consultation to be implemented from 1 September 2018, however the transfer plan ( 1. above) which should be legally completed by 31 March 2018, is significantly behind plan, and could delay it by many months, if not years. ( Please see previous Derby News articles on this subject)

Then consultation can be found HERE

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