The three things we need to help our schools

Plymouth’s Cabinet Member for Education has welcomed news that the city has been shortlisted to receive funding for a new special school – but called for three more key things to help the city’s school children get a better start.

Councillor Jon Taylor, Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Transformation said: “This is good news and encouraging for parents and families of young people with complex needs, but it is early days, there is a lot do to make this happen.”

The Council learned this week that its bid for a special school for young people with complex needs linked to autism was successful.

The next step is to open a competition for interested parties to submit expressions of interest as well as a business case.  The school has to complement Plymouth’s existing special schools and support centres, and offer tailored educational packages to meet the needs of young people.

He said: “This is certainly a step in the right direction. The Government appears to acknowledge that support for children and young people with special needs is not something that can be done on the cheap. It needs thought, funding and trained staff to help young people reach their full potential.”

There are currently 2,000 children and young people in Plymouth with an Education, Health and Care plan for their special educational needs and with those needs come the demand for extra time, resources and expertise across all schools. There will also be many more pupils who will require extra support but do not have an Education Health and Care Plan.

“Many parents and schools are crying out for more support and funding to enable children with special needs to enjoy mainstream schools – that’s why our number one ask of government is for schools to have more financial support to properly fund this work.”

The Council is also keen to see specialists from Plymouth’s existing special schools share their practice and training with mainstream colleagues – and funding to enable this professional development to happen is key, he said.

He continued: “We have some brilliant work going on in our special schools and are keen to ensure this is shared right across the city’s schools.  It’s doable, but we need to create a bit of space and capacity so that teachers can learn from each other.”

Also on the list is a call for more capital funding to make some schools more accessible, particularly for children with disabilities.

He added: “Yes this costs money, but it will also help us save money in the long term. Having our children in our schools – both special and mainstream – cuts the costs of out of city placements, it helps create a more level playing field for children with additional needs and their families. It creates opportunity for all our children, wherever they live.”

The council has been actively campaigning for more financial support for children with special education needs. A motion on notice was discussed last November at Full Council and Plymouth was one of 39 councils to sign an open letter calling for more money for schools and local authorities to support Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

The letter was compiled by the School Cuts Coalition and sent to the Education Secretary expressed deep concerns about the ‘dangerously inadequate funding’ for children and young people with SEND. In December 2018 the Council learnt that Plymouth had received £554,000 share of an additional £350 million across the country for SEND over the next two years