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SEND: Some schools ‘resist’ admitting children with EHCPs

Some schools are “resistant” to admitting children with SEND even when they have  been named in a statutory support plan, leaving pupils without a place, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator has said. 

Councils told Shan Scott, the chief adjudicator, that schools were “increasingly reluctant to admit children with SEND in-year, both with and without” education, health and care plans.

Being named in an EHCP means a school has a legal obligation to admit a child.

But in her annual report Scott said a “small number of authorities” had warned they “not only saw an increase in the reluctance of schools” to be named in an EHCP “but also
that some are resistant to admitting even once they have been named”.

She said it “seems that in some cases children have been left without a school place”.

One unnamed council told the OSA: “Some schools are refusing to comply with the LA naming them in an EHCP and we have to work hard to negotiate start dates especially mainstream secondary schools. 

“A growing number of pupils with an EHCP are CME (children missing education) as we can’t find a school who agrees they can meet need.”

‘Pretty desperate state of affairs’

She said reasons given for the “reluctance” included “funding challenges, concerns regarding meeting the child’s needs, and capacity issues in that such schools already had a significant number of pupils on roll with complex needs”. 

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, said it is a “pretty desperate state of affairs if some schools feel unable to comply with an LA naming them in an EHCP”.

“This is another sign of the massive pressures on the SEND system and it is clear that schools – despite their best efforts – are not able to meet all these very significant demands within existing capacity, funding and resources.”

Nearly one in ten council responses mentioned a shortage of specialist places – up from just one authority last year. 

One council said: “We do not have enough special school places and so are allocating children into mainstream who are evidently not suitable for this kind of schooling.”

Schools Week has exposed the capacity crisis in the specialist sector, with schools forced to cram vulnerable pupils into converted therapy spaces and staffrooms.

Scott said the council’s comments “serve to illustrate the interconnected nature of the difficulties which are being reported. 

“More children are being assessed as having special needs or disabilities, more assessments are likely to mean more late finalisation of EHCPs, leading to more over-PAN admissions to schools, the resistance of which to the admission of children with EHCPs is reported by some authorities to be increasing.

“And specialist places are at a premium. Each of these affects each of the others.”

‘Concern’ on timescales

Scott said all direction and direction advice cases were given the “highest priority” by OSA staff as they involve children who may be missing education. 

A direction case is a referral by maintained schools when a council wants to direct the school to admit a pupil. Direction advice cases means requests from the secretary of state for advice on whether she should direct an academy to admit a pupil. 

But Scott remains “concerned about how long some of these cases taken to complete for reasons outside of OSA’s control”. 

She said information was not supplied “at the outset” and some schools and councils are “then not prompt to respond to our enquiries”. 

One council said: “Due to the difficulties we experienced this year, it was necessary to request directions for some children.

“Given the circumstances that a direction is a last resort and a child is likely to have been missing from education for an already significant amount of time, it is unfortunate this process is lengthy. 

“As an example, a request for a direction was sent to the [DfE] on 16 February 2023, the outcome was received on 11 May.” 

Twenty councils also said that the shortage of year 7 places in their area had become a problem making it “one of the issues most frequently cited by authorities”, Scott said.

While some managed the bulge, others were “less successful reporting parental dissatisfaction with their allocated places leading to increased appeals and larger numbers of parents exercising their right to home educate”.

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