Your views wanted on review of Kent’s state maintained special schools

Special schools review

Kent County Council (KCC) is asking for views as part of a review of its maintained special schools.

The authority says the proposals are to ensure all Kent’s maintained special schools are admitting and educating children and young people with the most complex needs.

In the consultation launched earlier this week it sets out proposed future designations of special schools, the supporting admission guidance and a model of “school-to-school” support.

The designation of a special school shows the specific category of need for which it caters.

‘Designating schools’

KCC’s Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education, Sarah Hammond, said: “Our aim is to prepare children and young people with severe and complex special educational needs for adulthood by providing a special school place as close to their local community as possible.

“By designating our schools, we can make sure they have trained staff, special resources and facilities to reflect the type of need they support.

“We want to hear from those people whose experience can help shape our approach.”

Review

Since November 2022 there has been an ongoing review of the 24 state funded special schools in Kent. These schools provide an education for children and young people aged 5-19 years of age with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), who have an Education, Health and Care Plan.

Changes would be for seven schools’ designation and admission guidance whilst an additional two schools would be affected by the proposed admission guidance only. Seven of these are maintained special schools and two are part of an Academy Trust.

In Thanet affected schools would be Laleham Gap and Stone Bay School.

KCC’s consultation document says: “Kent has become over-reliant on special school placements, both state-funded and private. This has led to the placement of some children in a special school, whose educational attainment levels are similar to or above that of children in mainstream schools, and whose needs could be met in mainstream schools.

“This also means that in Kent, we have more special schools and more children in special schools (private and state funded) than other comparable local authorities.

“The proposed changes to special schools sit within a wider context of transformation across education settings and involves closer working with the NHS.

“If agreed, the changes proposed in this consultation would take effect from September 2026 and would apply to children and young people entering a special school placement from that date. Children already enrolled in a special school would continue to attend that special school.”

Increase in demand

There are currently 19,400 children and young people with an Education Health Care (EHC)  Plan in Kent, which on the current trajectory is predicted to rise to over 20,000 by 2026. While the increase in demand for SEND services is reflected nationally, Kent is an outlier compared to national averages. A pupil in Kent is 20% more likely, on average, to have an EHC Plan than in the rest of England and a child or young person with SEND in Kent is more likely to attend a special school than elsewhere in England.

Two inspections of Kent’s arrangements for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities conducted by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in 2019 and 2022 identified significant weaknesses, with minimal progress noted during the revisit in 2022.

These weaknesses reflect a lack of confidence of parent and carers in the education that is provided for pupils with SEND. To address this an improvement plan referred to as the Accelerated Progress Plan (APP) was developed which shows the changes and improvements KCC will be making for each of the nine areas of weakness.

Finances

KCC says state-funded special schools are full but not necessarily with children who have the most complex needs, and so more placements are made in private schools.

The authority says financially, spending on state-funded special school places has increased faster than the funding available. From 2018/19 to 2023/24 Kent’s spending on state funded special school places went up by 75% while spending in private schools increased by just over 116%.

KCC adds: “This is not an efficient use of resources, is not financially sustainable and prevents the Local Authority from planning effectively to provide special educational needs provision for those with the most complex and severe SEND in state-funded special schools.

“Our research shows that some children and young people currently in special schools across the County could attend a mainstream school if the curriculum was adapted to suit their needs.

“Similarly, mainstream schools have the potential and capability to adapt their curriculum to educate and care for these children and young people. Currently however, some of these children are placed in special schools, which may not be the best use of those special school places.”

After the consultation closes, feedback and an Equality Impact Assessment, will be presented to the Children, Young People and Education Cabinet Committee in the Autumn before a decision is made by the Cabinet Member for Education and Skills.

Have your say

You can have your say by visiting www.kent.gov.uk/specialschoolsreview before Wednesday 31st July.

To ask questions or to get a hard copy of the consultation email [email protected].

For alternative formats and languages, email [email protected] or call 03000 421553 (text relay service number: 18001 03000 421553). This number goes to an answering machine, which is monitored during office hours.

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