AN ALARMING rise in the number of children enrolled at special schools has raised concerns about whether local authorities are doing all they can to provide an inclusive mainstream education.
The number of children attending Hampshire special schools increased from 2,485 in 2012 to 2,904 in 2019 whilst over the same period the number of special educational needs (SEN) children fell from 29215 to 21648 – a decrease of more than a quarter (26 per cent). The county reflects the national picture in which SEN children in mainstream education has fallen by 24 per cent while the number attending special schools has risen by nearly a third.
Disability campaign group, The Alliance for Inclusive Education, accused the Government of an “on-going attack on disabled people’s rights to be included rather than segregated from society”.
The trend comes despite the is despite the introduction five years ago of the Children and Families Act which stated that SEN children should where possible be given a place in mainstream classes.
Hampshire County Council has defended its stance, citing an increase in children with Education Health Care Plans (EHCPs) and severity of needs which can’t be catered for in mainstream schools.
Councillor Roz Chadd, executive member for education and skills, said: ‘We expect the majority of pupils with a learning difficulty or disability should have their educational needs met in mainstream schools. However, in recent years there has been a significant rise in the number of children with an EHCP in Hampshire, and while some will be very well supported within one of the county’s mainstream schools, many others will require the expertise that only a specialist school can provide.’
Whilst there has been a relatively small increase in children attending Portsmouth special schools – 515 in 2012 to 574 in 2019 - there has been a 34 per cent decrease in the number of SEN children in mainstream schools – 5770 pupils to 3784.
Portsmouth City Council have said that changes to the assessment process have resulted in less children being identified with SEN but a greater proportion of those children assessed as having more complex needs.
Alison Jeffery, director of children, families and education, said: 'Whilst every effort is made to secure effective high quality provision within a mainstream setting, parental preference is of paramount importance. We must also have regard to the legislation which states "alongside the general presumption of mainstream education, parents of children with an EHCP have the right to seek a place at a special school". The overwhelming majority of children placed in special schools in Portsmouth are there because the parent expressly wishes that a special school place is found for their child and it has been agreed that this is the most appropriate placement to meet their significant needs.'