Parents say they feel ‘betrayed’ after learning the Local Authority has told schools to keep children with special educational needs in mainstream education - even if the school feels it cannot meet the child’s needs.
A leaked bulletin, which was sent to all Local Authority schools and academies across East Sussex, points out that the High Needs Block must fund pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND) whether they are placed in state or independent schools.
The bulletin says: “The bottom line is if we are to keep more of schools’ funding in local schools, more pupils with SEND need to be placed in their local school.”
In 2017, 127 children in East Sussex moved from mainstream to special schools, with just eight moving back to mainstream from specialist provision.
The bulletin says that in the long term, in order to bring the budget down “...we need to move 100 pupils out of special schools into mainstream schools and 50 pupils out of independent schools back into special or mainstream schools.”
It goes on to tell schools what they can do to help the LA, including agreeing to take pupils when asked, not requesting Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) as a safety net and looking to stop plans more frequently.
It also asked schools to support the LA at tribunals.
The document said: “This year there were a number of cases that we conceded because schools refused to support the Local Authority’s proposed placement and in that refused to support the community of East Sussex schools.”
ImPACT is a parent-led voluntary support group based in Hastings and Rother, which supports parents and carers of children and young people with SEND.
A spokesperson for ImPACT said: “We are shocked, we can’t quite believe this has been put in writing.
“The focus, by law, has to be on the needs of the individual pupil, not the individual school and especially not the collective of all schools.
“We hope schools in East Sussex have the courage to follow the law and stand up for what our individual children need.
“We feel entirely let down and betrayed by our children services department and local authority.
“What trust there was has been completely destroyed.”
An East Sussex County Council spokesman said: “The way we spend High Needs funding – the limited, ring-fenced Government funding we receive for provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) – has to be sustainable.
“In recent years we’ve seen an increase in demand for specialist school provision and more and more of our funding going away from local state schools and into the private sector, often to fund provision that is of variable quality.
“National data shows a projected chronic pressure on High Needs funding and the shift in the placements of children with EHCPs from mainstream towards specialist has contributed to this pressure.
“To ensure we reduce the pressures on this funding and in turn on school budgets, we need to start to see a reduction in the number of pupils educated outside mainstream schools.
“This is not just about ensuring the system is sustainable – it’s also about providing the most suitable educational provision for SEND children.
“Ideally we want children to be educated where possible in their local community alongside their friends, with the right support in place.
“Unnecessarily moving children out of mainstream schools can create challenges to their learning and progress towards independence.
“If ECHPs are successful in improving outcomes, we should see more children moving from specialist support into mainstream education and, where this happens, it should be celebrated as an achievement for that young person.”