Creating more special places in mainstream schools

North Yorkshire is working with mainstream schools to create a network of targeted provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

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This provision will create a system of enhanced support in primary and secondary schools across the county for children who would also benefit from having access to a mainstream setting and curriculum.

“This is about best practice,” said County Councillor Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Education and Skills. “This new model of enhanced provision for special needs children and young people will build a bridge between mainstream and special education so that where possible children with education, health and care plans can continue to be educated in mainstream schools.

“When we carried out our consultation on this issue when drawing up our SEND strategic plan last year, schools and families told us that they felt more children with EHCPs could remain in mainstream education and through this new model we are enabling that to happen.

“At the heart of the strategic plan and one of our key priorities is that children with SEND should be educated as close to their local communities as possible.”

Under the new model, 31 enhanced mainstream bases will be established which will provide over 200 places across the county.  There will be 17 primary schools offering up to eight places each and 14 secondary schools offering between 8 and 15 places each catering for children with social, emotional and/or mental health needs as well as those with communication and interaction difficulties. 

Despite being in its early stages, 15 schools have already expressed an interest in coming on board with the programme and further engagement work is planned with schools across the county early in the new school term.

Currently there are 20 schools across the county which provide enhanced support for special needs children.  This support, which has been in place for several years, is largely delivered through outreach services – where specialist teachers go out to help and train other teachers to meet the needs of their pupils in school.

Outreach provision for children with SEND in mainstream will continue to be provided by local teams of specialist staff from the county council which has been rated as outstanding for its children’s services. A full restructure of the council’s inclusion and SEND support teams is underway. These teams will be working locally from April 2020, ensuring a smooth transition of support arrangements.

“We felt it was time to remodel our provision,” said Cllr Mulligan, “given the growing number of children requiring education, health and care plans.  We needed to provide more permanent places in mainstream so that children can enjoy teaching and learning within their local communities whenever possible. At present there are very few permanent special needs places in mainstream school.”

The new service represents a considerable financial investment on the part of the county council and will take the budget for enhanced mainstream provision from £3m per annum to more than £4m. This includes significant investment from the High Needs Block for therapeutic support for children from speech and language, occupational and play therapists as well as education psychologists. The council will also support the professional development of school staff who are establishing the new services.

Only a few of the current enhanced mainstream schools have indicated their intention to continue delivery under the new arrangements.  However, through a network of new schools, the council will ensure there is the right balance of provision across all localities of North Yorkshire.

“For a whole range of reasons we have decided to reset and reboot our enhanced mainstream service and bring it more into line with national guidelines,” said Cllr Mulligan.

“This new approach will bring about more inclusive model but with the necessary support.  It will mean changes for some schools and some families, but support will be maintained for children who currently receive it and will be enhanced for some. This is good news and a significant commitment on the part of the county council, despite the well documented funding challenges being seen locally and nationally.”

In recent months the council has agreed to invest £11.6m of reserves over three years to meet the shortfall in funding from central government.  North Yorkshire has also been successful in its bid to provide a 100-place special free school in the Selby district; approved the establishment a 60 place satellite of Mowbray Special School in Ripon and a £1.2m expansion of Forest School in Knaresborough is underway.

“Our aspirations remain high for children and young people with SEND in North Yorkshire,” said Cllr Mulligan, “and we will continue to develop the range of provision needed both now and into the future.”        

This story was published 2 July 2019