Special needs education plans for Leeds pupils more than double in just seven years

Some schools in Leeds are under such pressure to achieve, that they are pushing low-achieving children towards getting education, health and care plans to ensure they won’t be included on a school’s attainment figures, a meeting of politicians and education experts has heard.

Thursday, 4th November 2021, 11:45 am

The claims were made during a meeting of Leeds City Council’s Children and Families Scrutiny Board, which was discussing a report into the council’s strategy for including children with special educational needs – known as SEND pupils – in mainstream schooling.

A report by Leeds City Council officers claimed the number of children in the city with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) had more than doubled between 2014 and 2021.

An EHCP is a legal document drawn up between a school, local authority and a child’s family which identifies additional needs a pupil may have, and how these should be addressed by their school.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Special needs education plans for Leeds pupils more than double in just seven years

Helen Bellamy, a school staff representative on the panel, said: “Early identification of needs is really important, but there is a real conflict between what Ofsted wants and what schools can do for their children who have difficulties.

“I know from speaking to a couple of really experienced SENCos over the last 18 months or so, that headteachers are under so much pressure to get as many children as possible up to the expected level.

“Those children who they know haven’t got a cat’s chance in hell of getting to that expected level – even though they can make good progress – are being pushed by some headteachers through the different levels towards an education, health and care plan, so they are not counted in their figures. Some of them are trying to get them into other settings.

“I don’t want to criticise these headteachers because they are under so much pressure, but we have SENCos saying that with the right time and effort, these children can catch up and the gap can be closed with the right emotional and educational support.

SENCo refers to a Special Educational Needs Coordinator – these are teachers who specialise in making changes to the school curriculum to make sure pupils with special educational needs are included.

She added: “The number of days SENCos have been given to actually work as a SENCo has been reduced. It is a huge problem, and it is a growing problem for those individual children.”

A report by council officers into the authority’s SEND strategy stated that there had been a “dramatic increase” in demand for EHCPs in recent years, with numbers increasing from 2,041 at 2014, to 5,006 at the time of writing.

“This increase is projected to continue and will likely be further impacted upon by the pandemic,” it added. “This has added significant pressures on capacity in the learning inclusion service teams responsible for EHCPs and their ability to produce and review EHCPs in line with statutory requirements.”

It claimed the council would review its systems to manage EHCPs, as well as reorganising its teams to better meet demand.

A council officer told the meeting: “In terms of these competing agendas, this is something that is highlighted. Ofsted are really keen on identifying the overall cohort of the school, the level of progress young people are making for their needs, as well as the overarching attainment levels.

“For some schools, it is a competing agenda, and some children end up with an education health and care plans, and parents, it is their preference for them to go into special education rather than going into the mainstream.”

She added that many mainstream schools were making good progress in including pupils with SEND.