Newham expands special needs provision

Five new or expanded centres attached to mainstream schools will be created for pupils with special educational needs in Newham, east London, as part of a multi-million pound grant from the government.

The new provision will provide an extra 100 places focused on speech, language and communication needs, including autism. The first are expected to be ready from September this year.

Newham will receive £2.2 million from the Department for Education over the next three years as part of an envelope of cash to help councils meet the need for more special needs places within mainstream schools.

Barney Angliss, a consultant specialising in SEND, told Schools Week that the £215 million fund announced by the department last year has encouraged the expansion of mainstream schools.

Local authorities are having a cash crisis over SEND

“In most cases I would imagine [the funding] is not enough to start a new special school, but it is enough to prime a unit or special provision attached to mainstream schools.

“Local authorities are having a cash crisis over SEND and if they can expand the range of units attached to mainstream then there’s a chance that they can reduce the amount they spend on transport to special schools that are further away.”

Recent research from the Education Policy Institute found that special-school pupils typically travelled three times further to school than those in mainstream education.

Newham Council will also help pupils with specific social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs by creating six new “flexible learning areas” in mainstream secondary school classrooms.

Staff will receive support and specialist advice from Newham’s Eleanor Smith Special School.

Newham council told Schools Week that the bases would be “nurturing environments” with capacity for up to six pupils at a time on a short-stay basis. They are likely to be pupils not attending school, with irregular patterns of attendance or at risk of exclusion.

The government is currently reviewing exclusion rates across schools and Ofsted has written to specific schools asking them to justify their high push-out rates.

Councillor Quintin Peppiatt, Newham’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “We are seeing an increasing complexity of SEMH and SEND needs . . . and unmet needs may cause a barrier to learning and can result in education outcomes that are inconsistent.

“We are working to ensure that we effectively meet these needs and our investment in a number of different provisions will support us to intervene early, allocate support and share best practice.”

Simon Knight, the director of Whole School SEND, a consortium dedicated to improving outcomes for SEND pupils, said specialist provision attached to mainstream schools should not be seen as a short cut when special school places were scarce.

“The best resource bases offer a highly specialist education in a highly inclusive manner, but this is not always the case.”

More research should be done to assess the impact of this provision if it was going to be made widely available, he added.

“This way we can better understand what high-quality provision of this type looks like and make sure that the children who attend are not shortchanged.”