ADCS annual conference: President hits out over SEND demands and mental health in schools

By Derren Hayes

| 05 July 2019

President of the Association of Directors of Children Services Rachel Dickinson, has called for a "reboot" in local authority powers to manage rising demand for special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision. 

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Speaking at the annual gathering of children services directors (DCS) in Manchester, Dickinson said the increase in the number of children with SEND and in demand for high needs funding for schools had been on an "epic scale" since the introduction of government reforms in 2014.

Figures published by the Department for Education yesterday showed there were 1.3m children with SEND in 2018, 7.3 per cent higher than the figure in 2016. The number with the most severe needs who had an education, health and care plan rose at a faster rate - 14.5 per cent. LINK 

Dickinson said a poll of DCSs had shown they were spending increasing amounts of time on SEND issues. 

Of 125 DCSs - more than 80 per cent of the total in England - polled half said they spend between 25-50 per cent of their time on SEND issues, and just under 10 per cent spend half of their time on it.

Addressing children's minister Nadhim Zahawi, who was also speaking at the conference, Dickinson said: "We welcome the £250m of additional high needs funding announced last Christmas and I know the minister understands the sheer scale of the SEND challenges and that £250m is no where near enough. 

"It's not just about funding. Local authorities have all the responsibility to maintain the high needs budget but no levers to affect this.

"I urge the minister to reboot council powers to enable us to be the best strategic commissioner of SEND services we can possibly be."

Dickinson also criticised government education policy, particularly its lack of inclusivity, which Dickinson said was reflected in rising exclusion rates and the "almost complete sidelining of local authorities". She said it was time to review head teachers' powers to exclude children unchecked. 

In addition, Dickinson described as "perverse" the blanket ban on schools rated "inadequate" by Ofsted from participating in the trials of mental health support teams.

The teams are being trialled in up to 370 schools across the country as part of a £300m government plan to improve early identification of mental health problems. 

Dickinson said the association welcomed the investment in teams "but we do not agree with the decision to bar schools with an Ofsted judgment of inadequate from participating in the trailblazers this year".

"This is perverse, as a blanket position, to rule out a significant group of children and young people based on an Ofsted judgment that could be some years old," she said.

"The government must not fail children in this way. 

"Better mental health support could be a key contributor to improving the quality of the learning environment and could help schools improve their Ofsted gracing and improving children's lives."

She called for the policy to change in future rounds.

 

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