Cornish children sent as far as Scotland to access special educational needs support

Primary school

Children with special educational needs in Cornwall are being sent as far away as Scotland due to a lack of services in the county.

SEND (special educational needs and disability) provision is 'broken' in Cornwall - leaving parents struggling to get the right support.

New data provided by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism shows that Cornwall Council has a multi-million pound deficit in the funding for SEND support.

The council is also spending thousands of pounds sending children out of Cornwall to access provision.

Cornwall was highlighted as the local authority sending a child the furthest distance in the country to access education with one child being sent to Fife in Scotland – almost 600 miles away.

Parents in Cornwall say they are struggling to get the help they need for their children and are even being discouraged from getting Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) which would place a legal responsibility on local councils and schools to provide sufficient support for children.

Sitting in the kitchen of her home in mid Cornwall Sarah* (names changed to protect identity) says that she has had to give up her job to look after her autistic son James* after his school refused to apply for an EHCP and he was unable to attend school.

Without this documentation the school and his parents are unable to access the funding which might pay for the support that he needs to be able to complete his education.

His parents have now applied for an EHCP themselves – they only discovered they were able to do this after a lot of research and speaking to independent organisations – but despite putting in the application at the beginning of December and being told they would get a draft EHCP by mid April have heard nothing.

Sarah said: “Schools are telling parents that they won’t apply for EHCPs as you won’t get them, which seems odd as if children have EHCPs then schools can access funding to pay for the resources and support they need.

“But then councils only have a limited amount of money so they are probably not issuing as many EHCPs because they know it will mean they have to provide more. However, it seems that schools are discouraging EHCPs so the true number of people who are unable to get them is probably hidden.”

James’ parents say that his school had a habit of highlighting that they are a “mainstream school” but Sarah says that getting alternative provision is impossible without having an EHCP.

Cornwall Council says matching a child's needs with appropriate education can leave 'limited options'. Credit: ITV West Country

Data provided by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism shows that Cornwall Council’s Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) fund, which pays for SEND provision had a deficit of £1.5million in 2020/21 and was forecast to end the current financial year with a deficit of £4.9m.

Local councils which have a deficit in their DSG are required to provide a recovery plan to the Department of Education to explain how they propose to address the situation.

The council said that it does provide regular updates to the Cornwall Schools Forum and would provide information to the DfE if requested.

In terms of EHCPs the data shows that there were 3,324 children in Cornwall with EHCPs in December 2020 and that a year later that had increased to 3,568 – a rise of 7.3%.

The DfE said that the number of children assessed for an EHCP in Cornwall who were then not issued one was 1%.

The number of requests for EHCP assessments in Cornwall which were refused stood at 19.4%.

However, as experienced by James’ family, this hides the fact that many families would like to have their children assessed for an EHCP but are discouraged by schools.

When asked to comment on the data Cornwall Council said in a statement: “We look forward to Cornwall’s participation in the Delivering Better Value programme from the DfE, which will look at the High Needs Block expenditure in Cornwall and seek ways to ensure that there are no future deficits – this will include an exploration of the sufficiency of specialist provision in Cornwall.”

Credit: Richard Whitehouse, LDRS reporter