Children with special educational needs missing months of school in Somerset

Parents of children in Somerset with conditions like autism say they are not going to school because they feel their needs aren’t being met.

Somerset County Council says it offers every child a school place that it believes is right for them, but 'recognises there is more work to do'.

The authority says around 1% of children with an education, health and care plan (EHC) do not currently have any education in place.

Of these, 20 have no education provision and a further 25 have no school identified but receive tuition from Somerset County Council’s SEN Integration Team. The council says this will include children who have recently moved into the county.

However, ITV News has been contacted by parents whose children are neither in school nor have an EHC.

Julie Barnes, from Highbridge, says she has been home-teaching her children Tom and Isabel, who both have special educational needs, because mainstream schooling isn’t right for them.

She says the class sizes can be too large and overwhelming for children with conditions like autism. Isabel also finds it easier to read and learn whilst on the floor, rather than at a desk.

She said: "When your kid goes to school every day you don’t think about kids that aren’t in education.

"There are parents like me in Somerset and I only know of a handful that have done home education as a life choice."

Julie's daughter Isabel recently stopped attending a mainstream school after nine days Credit: Julie Barnes

Julie's daughter, Isabel, recently started at a mainstream school, having been assessed by Somerset County Council. However, she stopped attending after nine days.

Julie says she will not force her to go in when she feels it isn't right for her: "I don’t want to go through my child telling me she’s poorly every day and kicking and screaming on the way to school, then coming home from school and going straight to bed because she just can’t function and she just doesn’t want to be alive at seven years old.

"That’s heartbreaking, as a parent, to have a child tell you that they just wished that they weren’t here."

Julie's son Tom, who has autism, is about to start at a special educational needs school having missed over a year of schooling. He says his last school, which is a mainstream school, couldn’t meet his needs.

He won a tribunal to get his place but says the last year has taken its toll. He said: "I’m not very confident at all anymore, compared to what I used to be.

"It feels like when you whack yourself with a hammer - you feel constant pain. Every time I go 'oh, yeah, I could probably do that again,' and then I'm like 'no, you can't do that again, not after that.'

Tom says his confidence may return at his new school. He said: "They'd support me in everything I'm struggling with."

  • Watch Cllr Tessa Munt from Somerset County Council's speaking to Ben McGrail

There are around 70,000 school age children and young people in Somerset with around 1500 children electively home educated.

Cllr Tessa Munt, Somerset County Council Lead Executive Member for Children and Families, said: “We believe that every child in Somerset deserves the best possible start to life and we will actively seek a school place for any child who needs one in the right setting for them.

"We know there’s more to do and are committed to improving Special Educational Need and/or Disability (SEND) provision, with a further investment of £10m in SEND programmes in addition to the £60m already earmarked to provide an extra 450 specialist places in Somerset."

Somerset County Council, NHS Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group and Somerset Parent Carer Forum are currently running an annual SEND survey. Anyone who has been in contact with Somerset SEND services (for whatever reason) over the past year is invited to share their views and experiences in the annual SEND survey.

Cllr Munt said: “We want to make sure every child and young person is happy, healthy and prepared for adulthood, with fairer life chances and equal opportunities.

“We’re listening. We’d encourage you to let us all know what’s working well now, what we can do better in future, and what our priorities should be. Somerset is investing millions in SEND services - and when you tell us what you think, we can plan for the future, confident in the knowledge that we’re all working together.”

Ruth Hobbs, CEO Somerset Parent Carer Forum CIC, said: ”The new format of our survey will help us to understand the impact of our services on local families. We encourage as many people as possible to take part in the survey. This will enable the partnership to have a clear understanding of the current experience of families and what further work is needed.”