A shortfall in locally funded schools for children with special needs meant that 20, 000 children were forced to attend school outside of their local authority area in 2017 to 2018. This figure does not even reveal the true picture since numbers were based on 113 out of 151 council responding to the data request according to figures published by the Observer. It also does not reflect the number of parents, who after facing the prospect of their child being offered a school place hundreds of miles away or an unsuitable school locally, then choose to home school their child.
One mother informed the Observer that she was forced to send her son to a boarding school over 100 miles away because there was no school place suitable for her son’s needs locally. It must be very difficult for parents to face such decisions; they may have other children whose needs they must also be meet as they try to balance being a parent to all their children.
It is unknown how the impact for these vulnerable children is being affected psychologically when they are separated from their families. Starting a new school for any child can be a daunting prospect and often they rely on support from their families and familiarity of other non-school activities to give them a sense of routine and stability. A vulnerable child being placed in a school and being forced to board there because it is so far away, means they become even more vulnerable as they lose their coping strategies.
The lack of investment for more schools over the last few years and an increase of accurate diagnosis of conditions such as autism has led to a growing need. The government announced funding for 37 more schools to cater for children with special education needs and some areas will benefit from the plans. However, some places whose needs have doubled in the last two years, such as Nottingham will still experience a dramatic shortfall. Although it is a step in the right direction; priority needs to be given to developing local school places for children with special needs if our most vulnerable children are going to supported and have a right to education.