Damning report warns some SEND pupils not getting the support they need

Many children in the East of England with special educational needs and disabilities aren't getting the support they need, a report from the Government’s spending watchdog has warned.

The National Audit Office (NAO) says local councils are coming under "growing financial pressure" to meet demand.

According to the report, the number of pupils identified as having the greatest needs - those in special schools and with education, health and care plans in mainstream schools - rose by 10.0% between 2013-14 and 2017-18.

Despite the fact the Department for Education has increased school funding in that time, the actual funding per pupil has dropped by 2.6% in real terms for those with high needs.

Adam Smith, 12, has autism. Credit: ITV News Anglia

As a result, councils are increasingly busting their budgets for children with high needs with more children being sent to special schools instead of mainstream education - a system the NAO believes is not "financially sustainable".

"In 2017-18, 122 local authorities (81.3%) overspent their schools' high-needs budgets... The position has worsened since 2013-14 , when 71 local authorities (47.3%) overspent," the report read.

The report also raised concerns that the current system is "incentivising" mainstream schools to be less inclusive due to the fact that schools are expected to cover the first £6,000 of SEND pupils' support from their existing budgets.

This has left some children in limbo because some mainstream schools are reluctant to admit or keep pupils with SEND.

One such example is the story of 12-year-old Adam Smith from Ipswich who has autism.

He's just been handed a place in a special school, but after two terms, he will be reassessed and could be returned to a mainstream school.

  • Watch an extended interview with Laura Brackwell from the National Audit Office

"You seem to get pushed from pillar to post about where to go next and it's draining - it's mentally draining," his mum Christine Smith told ITV News Anglia.

"It's routine. Autistic children love routine and they're not getting it. They're not getting the help and support. It's a massive worry for the future. It has a massive impact not just on parents but on siblings, whole families. It can tear them apart."

The NAO did say that some children are receiving high-quality support, but added that others are being neglected.

The report noted that pupils with SEND are more likely to be permanently excluded from school, with SEND pupils accounting for nearly 45% of all permanent exclusions and 43% of fixed-term exclusions in 2017-18.

  • Watch an extended interview with Cllr John Fisher from Norfolk County Council

The government has recently committed to an extra £700m for special needs and a major review of support has also been launched.

"Helping all children and young people reach their potential is one of the core aims of this Government, including those with special educational needs," a Department for Education spokeswoman said.

"That is why the Prime Minister has committed to providing an extra £700 million next year to make sure these children get an education that helps them develop and thrive as adults.

"We have improved special educational needs support to put families at the heart of the system and give them better choice in their children's education, whether in mainstream or special school.

"Last week, we launched a review of these reforms to make sure every child everywhere gets an education that prepares them for success."