HPCI update on availability of special education places

This email is about just one topic – the availability of special school places for September 2021. We know that this does not affect all of our parent network members but is an issue facing a number of families.

We have heard from parents and voluntary sector groups about this issue and we wanted to update our parent network on the situation and HPCI’s actions.  HPCI is very aware of the current situation and has been consistently raising concerns around the availability of special school places for several years now.

Just to put things in context, there are a number of reasons why Hertfordshire is in this situation.  There has been, for a decade or longer, a lack of planning and investment in the specialist sector by central government. This has contributed to a widespread issue across the country around the lack of available places in specialist provision.  Funding reductions in mainstreams settings (due to austerity) and the increased emphasis on academic attainment in mainstream schools have also contributed to more demand for specialist places. There has also been an increase in the complexity of needs seen in some children and young people.

Hertfordshire did not have an appropriate forward planning mechanism for specialist places or a strategy.  Both of these things have now been corrected partly due to HPCI continually raising this as an issue. Regrettably and frustratingly the length of time needed to work through the political process, consultation and planning phases has lagged behind the numbers of children needing a place.  The pandemic has also delayed some of these developments.
The new strategy covers specialist place planning from 2020 to 2023 and is soon to be published on the SEND Local Offer but can be found here: Special School Place Strategy  Over the last 2 years extra places have been created in existing settings with some buildings expanded and building work is happening in a number of schools at the moment.  There are also new education provisions in the pipeline to meet needs that are not currently effectively met.

HPCI parent reps have been involved in all these developments and have always emphasised the need for timely, transparent and consistent communication with families.  Regrettably this has not always happened and continues to be an issue that we regularly urge the LA to improve on.

We are aware that EHC plans have had the type of provision stated but not a specific school named.  Some parents have reported that they have been told not to apply for special schools due to the lack of places. This is not acceptable and we will take this up directly with senior officers. If a specialist setting is the right place for a child to have their needs met and is the family’s preference then that is where they should be able to be educated.  Unfortunately, the number of children who need a specialist place for September or are awaiting one is currently over 100. Of course, parents have every right to pursue the SEND Tribunal route to reach individual resolutions and with time short until September many will want to take this option and we have already alerted senior officers that they are likely to face an increase in registered appeals.

So – what is being done for the families affected? 
Individual solutions are being looked at by HCC officers for every child/young person affected.  The use of temporary accommodation such as portable classrooms and the conversion of underused spaces in schools to classrooms are all being considered along with individualised packages.  Key officers meet weekly to look at solutions for all the children affected for this September and the SEN Officers and managers have been asked to keep in regular contact with families to let them know what is going on.  There is also a review begun on of how the system operates as a whole to identify improvements to help prevent this happening again in the future.  It has to be said though that, until all the expansion and new provisions are in place, there will also be some families in a similar position for September 2022.

HPCI is disappointed that families are in this difficult situation and has again raised concerns with senior leaders in Children’s Services about this, the communications around it and how successful transitions need to be put in place.  HPCI will continue to raise this issue and work hard to represent families with SEND in all of our work across education, health and care.

Sources of help and support

Hertfordshire’s SENDIASS service will be able to advise contact them via:
email sendiass@hertfordshire.gov.uk or phone 9.30am to 3pm 01992 555847

National charity Contact also have information HERE