SEND

Investigation: The broken special needs system

Joint investigation by Schools Week and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveals the scale of the challenge ahead for SEND reforms

Joint investigation by Schools Week and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveals the scale of the challenge ahead for SEND reforms

28 Apr 2022, 0:01

State-funded special schools are setting up classrooms in staffrooms and converting therapy spaces as a surge in pupils with additional needs creates a places crisis.

This in turn pushes cash-strapped councils into bigger deficits as they send more youngsters to costly private schools or to other schools sometimes hundreds of miles away.

The findings reveal the huge challenge ahead for ministers as they table proposals to reform the failing system.

Schools Week and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) can reveal today that the special needs funding black hole has risen to £1.3bn, up by £465m in a single year.

special
Read our six-page investigation here

Three quarters of councils now have SEND funding deficits, some of which even doubled or tripled in 12 months.

The cash crisis means councils attempt to cut costs with new measures – such as support “thresholds” – that make it more difficult for children to receive support.

The pressures of rising demand and increasing complexity of need has left councils without enough state-funded provision to cope.

New figures suggest more than half of special schools are at or over capacity – pushing leaders to give up staffrooms and other areas such as therapy spaces just to meet demand.

The places shortfall means 43,000 pupils with special needs are placed in schools outside their home area, with 3,300 in settings an estimated 20 miles or more away. 

More than 100 children were placed in schools in excess of 200 miles from where they live, TBIJ analysis reveals.

Katie Ghose, chief executive of the disabilities charity Kids, said the findings were a “stark reminder of the gap between the support disabled children and their families need to thrive and the funds available to local authorities”.  

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