Is your school up to the special education needs challenge?

Moore Blatch’s Victoria Federico, discusses the Government’s future plans in relation to academies and free schools

The recent announcement by the Government that up to 1,000 schools in England, including those rated inadequate by Ofsted could be turned into academies under The Education and Adoption Bill is likely to see more academies and free schools accommodating pupils with special education needs.

Victoria says that as more free schools and academies are opened, staff will not only need to be aware of their responsibilities towards children with special educational needs and disabilities, but also the help and financial support that local authorities can provide to ensure these children are well supported whilst at school.

The Government says that it wants to create an additional 270,000 school places in free schools over the next five years, as well as opening new special free schools, the latter will be dedicated to solely educating children with special educational needs.

Most recent statistics show that 1 in 100 children is now diagnosed with an autistic spectrum condition, with many accepting that this figure is likely to be higher, and that many children still go undiagnosed. 

This means that every school will have a significant number of children with autism, whether this condition has been diagnosed or not. 

It is important that schools assess children with autism individually; considering their specific needs, as they are unlikely to have identical requirements. As the quote by Dr Stephen Shore states: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism”.

Victoria explains: “Autism can be a complex condition with many children experiencing an overlap in symptoms; but as a spectrum condition the educational needs of each child can vary considerably.

“In our experience educational problems often arise because children with autism struggle to get the support they need. Difficulties with communication and social skills can seriously impact on their education and learning, leading to misunderstandings with teachers and pupils, with many children with autism also being bullied by fellow pupils.

“In schools where there is not enough support or staff expertise in place to help a child with autism, children can experience frequent exclusions, which can have a profound effect on the child, making them withdrawn and affecting their learning, education and home life.”

For schools looking to support children with autism, there are a number of initiatives that can be put in place at little or no cost to the school which will also benefit other pupils. Many children with autism can have sensory sensitivities and often dislike loud noises. As a rule most children at schools will benefit if loud noises and disruptive behaviour is kept to a minimum, so in fact, in certain circumstances, the measures put in place to support children with autism can benefit classes as whole and do not require much money or resource to initiate; instead schools will need buy-in from staff and pupils, to make a positive impact on the learning of all pupils.

Undoubtedly in some cases, children with autism will, of course, require support over and above what an individual academy or free school can provide and will need an Education, Health and Care Plan (‘EHC plan’) to be issued by the education department of their local authority.

An EHC plan is a legal document that replaces Statements of Special Educational Needs and Learning Difficulty Assessments for children and young people, up to the age of 25 with special educational needs.  It covers all of a child’s education, health and social care needs, detailing provision to meet those needs and allocating an appropriate educational placement.  It is the legal responsibility of the child’s local authority to maintain the plan, and pay for the provision of the placement within the plan; although day-to-day responsibility will be delegated to the school, which will be responsible for putting in place the appropriate support. 

A school which includes children with EHC plans will often have a positive impact on the education of other mainstream pupils, by widening the educational community within the school. If a local authority is considering naming a school in section 1 of a child’s EHC plan they must consult directly with the school. Once the school is named in the EHC plan it will be under a legal duty to admit the child. No schools, including academies and free schools can set a limit or quota on the number of children with EHC plans they are willing to admit.

Victoria concludes: “Our own experience and government figures show that SEN appeals to the special educational needs tribunal have risen, with autism related appeals also on the increase. These appeals are instigated by parents to examine and consider the suitability of support in place for children, and can often be avoided if parents and schools work much closer together during the offer stage, to ensure that chosen schools can provide the right support for their child’s specific needs. Greater consultation with local authorities when schools are being considered under EHC plans is also recommended, this will all help to build a better picture of the child and avoid problems later down the line.”   

Moore Blatch is a law firm with major strengths in personal injury, clinical negligence, corporate and commercial, property, dispute resolution and private client.


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