Council apologises to families of Somerset children missing school

Somerset County Council has apologised to parents who are struggling to get their children with conditions like autism and ADHD the education they need.

Dozens of families across the county have contacted ITV News to say their children are not going to school or do not have a place at a suitable one. The council says it is investing £10 million into its special educational needs service over the next two years and has pledged that it will improve.

There are officially 26 children in Somerset without a school place, however many parents have said their children have been placed into schools that aren't right for them. There have also been claims of extremely long waits for educational health care (EHC) plans.

One young person affected is 14-year-old Ollie Dale from Wells. He was diagnosed with autism and sensory processing disorder when he was five. His secondary schools haven’t been able to meet his needs so he hasn’t gone to one since May.

He said: "I just have tutoring, but it just makes my mental health worse as well because I’m in the school I got kicked out of and it's just a bit confusing being there."

His mum Jennifer Wilson said: "He's not actually been kicked out of school, but he views it as a rejection. It's just that the school he was at felt that they couldn't offer him the right education for his complex social and emotional health needs.

"The frustration that we find ourselves in now is that there are limited schools and limited placements available to be able to get him in a school that can accommodate all of his needs."

14 Ollie Dale hasn't gone to school since May 2022

11-year-old Ayeesha Probert from Burnham-on-Sea has autism but has finally received a place at a specialist school after years of getting by at mainstream school - often missing lessons.

Her Mum Amber said: "She's been going in, but it's just 20 minutes a day in a separate room, not accessing the national curriculum. So she's just playing board games.

"She's in year six now and she's only just starting to get a home tutor and then eventually a SEND school. So that's a really long fight."

  • Watch Cllr Tessa Munt from Somerset County Council responding to the issue

Somerset County Council said it has invested over £60m in Special Educational Needs (SEND) provision for Somerset schools over the last three years, which has provided an additional 450 specialist places. It will also invest a further £10 million in SEND over the next two years.

However, lead member for children and families, Cllr Tessa Munt, has apologised to families, saying: "What I'd say is I'm sorry. We know there are problems - there have been problems for some time.

"I am absolutely committed, along with my colleagues, to getting this as right as it possibly can be and every child has an opportunity to have an education. It's only fair that we should do what we can to make sure that education inspires them to do what they want to do for the future."

The Somerset SEND Partnership, which includes Somerset County Council, NHS Somerset, Somerset Parent Carer Forum and local education providers, has launched a consultation for the public to feedback on their updated SEND Strategy.

The strategy was shaped by engagement with children, young people and families and sets out how services will be delivered and led over the next three years. The consultation will be open until 23 December 2022.

Ruth Hobbs, CEO of Somerset Parent Carer Forum, said: “We believe that services should be designed with the people who use them, so over the past year we have been working closely with children and young people, their families, and partners in education, health, social care, and early years to help us understand the challenges people face, and also consider opportunities for improvement.”