Money being withheld by councils for children attending special schools, including in Sheffield
In my Equalities and Human Rights role I have had a sizeable number of families raising concern with me about some local authorities (LAs), including Sheffield City Council, withholding the payment of fees for specialist school placements and in other circumstances payments relating to in-school or bought in therapeutic provision too.
Parents have been highlighting that some schools concerned, who are struggling to meet their overheads, bereft of released LA payments, have been in communication with them expressing that the withholding of fee payments by councils for their child’s provision goes back many months and in instances two terms plus, potentially placing at risk their child’s placement in these schools and causing fiscal detriment to the schools concerned.
It is the case that where children have been placed outside of maintained council special school provision, or in a maintained school outside of their LA, this arises in most instances because these provisions can meet, most appropriately, the disabled children’s SEND profile and SEND provision requirements, whereas the maintained council schools cannot.
Some independent special schools are found to be the most appropriate provision for a child via the court system (SENDIST) and LAs have accordingly been directed by SENDIST to send a child to a specific independent special school and/or to provide additional services such as, therapeutic linked provisions etc. where this cannot be found for delivery in a school or LA linked setting.
The obligation is then upon the child’s home LA to fund this from their Government designated budget.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) is part of the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) (Health, Education and Social Care Chamber (the Tribunal)). Appeals in respect of decisions of the First Tier Tribunal are made to the Upper Tribunal (UT).
The FTT deals with appeals in relation to children and young people with special educational needs and Disabilities (SEND) as well as claims of disability discrimination in relation to school and local authorities (such as exclusions from schools). Not to adhere to a SENDIST directive is unlawful.
Whilst it is recognised that LAs are feeling the pressure of change and have fears about the potential impact and aligned lingering effects of a looming financial crisis, arising from Covid-19, it is understood that LAs have been designated budgets by Government to meet certain costs, including funding for school fees for those, who need to be accommodated in independent special school placements or where disabled children attend schools in a different LA and have their SEND provision requirements met there.
No child nor family should be suffering from stress or anxiety, arising from having payments for the provision that was prior agreed upon, not paid across to those commissioned to deliver this provision for the m.
We also still have children in Sheffield and indeed across the UK being left without adequate SEND school placements, some have not even had designated to them a school placement to this very date.
Government statistics identify that there are more that 1,500 children who do not have a school place, some have been on waiting lists for two years and some longer. One case I am dealing with in Sheffield was waiting for a special school placement for three years and when allocated a placement of late, has been given a special school placement wholly unsuited to his SEND profile and SEND provision requirements, necessitating a follow through legal challenge.
Sparkle Sheffield and Autism Union too are also dealing with an increase in other complaints coming in , including in regard to Education Health Care Needs Assessments and Education Health Care Needs Plans being withheld or refused, delays in assessment times running now not only into months but in cases over years and complaints also relating to how some schools have been acting towards children with SEN.