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West Bridgford headteacher: Still not enough SEND places in Nottingham schools

Headteachers at some Nottingham schools fear there are still not enough places for children with special educational needs and disabilities, despite a plan to create more.

Figures show there are more than 2,000 children and young people receiving support in the city.

And the number of children living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has risen by more than 100 per cent from 317 children to 642 in 2022.

Similarly the number of children needing support for Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) increased by 146 per cent from 70 children to 172 children.

In response the Department for Education (DfE) announced funding for new  special educational needs and disabilities places, known as SEND.

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Nottingham City Council was given £17.9m to cover a period between 2021 and 2024.

However, during a Nottingham Schools Forum meeting on December 5, serious concerns were raised that there is still not enough specialist space for children.

Alison Tones, the headteacher at the council-maintained Rufford Primary School, said: “My concern is, and I understand the need to do something urgently, and I need to understand those decisions need to be made to some extent on a pragmatic basis, but it always feels to me like it is; ‘where are we are going to put these children?’, not; ‘what is our long term aim for these children, and what are the successes and the outcomes of the provision?’

“I just hope at some point we reach a point where it doesn’t feel like firefighting.”

According to council documents places at Westbury Academy will increase by six places from 104 to 110 in 2024/25, places at Woodlands Academy will rise by eight from 89 to 97, Denewood Academy will increase places by eight from 42 to 50, six additional places will be created at Djanogly Strelley and four will be created at Milford Academy.

The new places will come at a cost of £564,000.

A range of specialist provision has also been agreed and is moving to early design works, documents say.

These developments include an expansion of Rosehill Special School for 80 places, enhanced resource provision at Fernwood Secondary School for 20 places, eight to 10 places at Nottingham Girl’s Academy, enhanced provision at Gladehill School for eight places and finally eight places at Milford Academy.

However Sandra Stapleton, the principle at the Nottingham Emmanuel School in West Bridgford, said: “It is great to see more spaces coming but I don’t feel, and this is obviously opinion and that of the trust that I’m in, that there are enough spaces across the city even with those additional spaces being put in place.”

Terry Smith, the headteacher at Greenfield Community School, added: “I appreciate totally the fact we are getting extra money into the budget, because our budget position is looking really dodgy for next year, but there is still that wider issue, that we need to recognise, that there is significant pressures on the school due to the funding for children with additional needs.”

Schools across Nottingham had already raised concerns over their budgets after an “incredibly serious” miscalculation of funding by the Government, which led to them losing out on just under £1.9m in funding as a result.

Nick Lee, the director of education at the council, responded to say: “I totally hear the comments made. The need it national. This is a conversation that is happening across the country.

“I know we are concerned with Nottingham children and Nottingham schools, but the context is challenging nationally and most of my conversations with peers across the region are on this very issue.

“I think the proposals, in terms of our places and expansion of places, the response we are trying to put together, is affordable.

“Our benchmarking against comparators shows we are still delivering within a funding model that is constrained by how it is set nationally, but still delivering really good value for that.

“We will never get it right 100 per cent, but I do commend you these proposals on the basis that the intent that we continue our drive for good, inclusive local provision is one of our key drivers of our policy.”

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