'Colossal change' needed to cope with SEND 'crisis' across Central Bedfordshire

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Special education needs and disabilities situation is dire, meeting told.

A “colossal change” is needed across special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision by Central Bedfordshire Council and its health partners, a meeting heard.

But “the crisis now” needs addressing, as well as longer-term planning, the local authority’s schools panel was told.

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Between 2018 and 2020 the number of requests for an education, health and care needs assessment in Central Bedfordshire more than doubled, according to a report to the panel.

File photo of a teacher and students in a classroom. Picture: Ben Birchall/PA WireFile photo of a teacher and students in a classroom. Picture: Ben Birchall/PA Wire
File photo of a teacher and students in a classroom. Picture: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

“This increased by a further 65 per cent in the 12 months from July 2021 to June 2022,” said the report.

Working with CBC to deliver better value, SEND specialist Jo Hedley explained: “Our mainstream schools are at times struggling to meet the needs of children with SEND. Waiting times have increased, and parents are seeking independent therapies and assessments.

“Changing the patterns in provision would create local offers which meet our children and young people’s needs, including our additional resource units, and specialist placements and schools.

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“We also want to focus on the effectiveness of early intervention support in a child’s journey. We’re looking at transition officers to help them at key points, where they might often fail in their next placement, and there’ll be investment in speech and language therapy, particularly in early years.

“The key message for this work isn’t around cost cutting, but about us improving services by building capacity in schools, training input support, and increasing parent/carer satisfaction and confidence in our SEND system.”

A “colossal change” is needed, she warned. “SEND is everyone’s business, while that change and improvement is everyone’s work. We’re having to use out of county settings more because local provision isn’t available.

“Again it’s the recognition of how colossal this change will need to be, and that we must work as a system to ensure consistency and reduce demand if we can.”

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Church of England diocese representative Caren Earp suggested: “What’s presented is mid- or longer-term, rather than the crisis we’re in right now.

“Some mainstream schools are way beyond the national percentage of EHCPs, stretching resources beyond what they can manage.

“I can’t see a current plan to help with this dire situation. We’ve a duty to respond to the students with us right now and we need something in place because it really is serious.”

CBC’s assistant director for SEND Helen Phelan replied: “With the nature of SEND and the code of practice we follow, it’s about individual circumstances. It isn’t a one size fits all and never should be.

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“It’s how do we support schools so every one is an inclusive school in Central Bedfordshire and welcoming to children with SEND. There’s plenty done to support schools, but it’s not always communicated to the wider audience. Things are going on with individual schools.”

Ms Earp added: “It’s not filtering through. I’m not hearing that.”

Independent Biggleswade West councillor Hayley Whitaker said: “Some schools are incredibly inclusive and take many of our SEND children.

“I’m conscious of the financial situation that can put them under. The council leader has been lobbying ministers at Westminster to meet that deficit, so our schools are incentivised to take SEND children because they aren’t necessarily at present.”