A review into standards of residential special schools and colleges has highlighted significant failures in the way councils commission and provide services.
The Good Intentions, Good Enough? review, co-chaired by Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, and Mark Geraghty, chief executive of residential special school provider the Seashell Trust, uncovered multiple problems with the existing system, including a lack of support to help pupils stay in non-residential schools.
The year-long review also found that a culture of mistrust between local authorities and providers was harming children's wellbeing. This is being exacerbated by authorities failing to commit resources to strategic, long-term planning.
The report identifies a number of examples of good practice to help commissioners and providers improve services, three of which are summarised here.
Essex: creating support centres in mainstream schools
Essex County Council has increased the amount of support offered to autistic children by creating autism support centres in eight mainstream schools - four primaries and four secondaries.
The support centres enable children with complex needs who may previously have been educated in residential settings, to receive most of their education in mainstream school.
Admissions are managed by the council's statutory assessment service, working in partnership with the schools. All of the pupils admitted have an education, health and care plan.
The council has also agreed to provide additional funding from its dedicated schools grant to develop new places for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Oxfordshire: special academy school created with charity
In response to the number of children with special needs it was placing in residential schools out of authority, Oxfordshire County Council has worked with learning disability charity MacIntyre to develop a specialist academy for children with autism and severe learning disabilities.
The Endeavour Academy offers places to children aged eight to 19 and a curriculum that is tailored to their individual needs. It also provides extended day activities, short breaks and residential care.
The school has received good feedback from parents and been rated "good" by Ofsted.
The council also says it has reduced the need for out of authority placements.
Hertfordshire: support for schools boosts SEND expertise
Faced with a £15m annual bill for out-of-county special school placements, Hertfordshire County Council realised it needed to find a better way of meeting SEND children's needs.
An assessment of cases revealed that many pupils were being educated out of area because their local school was unwilling to meet their needs.
The council worked with schools to improve their SEND expertise, highlighting the amount of money that could be saved from the dedicated schools grant.
Schools agreed to educate more pupils with SEND, with the amount spent on out-of-county placements dropping almost two-thirds to £6m annually.
The government has accepted the review's central recommendation to establish a national leadership board to oversee reforms of the system - key to this will be improving collaboration between local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and service providers to ensure children and young people can access the most appropriate placements.
A NATIONAL OUTCOMES FRAMEWORK IS REQUIRED TO ACHIEVE REVIEW'S AMBITIONS
Lizzie Wills, Children's Services Development Group (CSDG)
As we represent a number of independent providers of special schools, we've consistently championed innovative thinking to promote positive experiences and outcomes for all the children and young people in our members' care.
CSDG believes the review's recommendations are positive and we're keen to ensure the independent sector is fully involved in work centrally and locally to implement them.
We were concerned by the report's findings regarding local authorities' continued reluctance to place children in independent special schools, on the grounds of perceived poorer quality and unjustifiably higher costs.
Our members work with children with very complex needs who typically require highly specialist support that local authorities are generally unable to provide themselves. The specialist nature of this provision and the resources required to deliver the service will necessarily be more expensive than any standard provision.
A National Outcomes Framework is needed that benchmarks all providers on value, quality, cost, and outcomes. This would focus commissioning on a child's needs rather than cost, and, where possible, ensure placements are made locally. It would also ensure children and their families can make a real choice about the best placement and remove ideological barriers that hamper informed decision making.
The recommendations in the report would go some way to supporting this goal and we look forward to seeing how the new national leadership board plans to take them forward.