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Lincolnshire County Council report reveals demand for special needs school places is dramatically rising and outpacing available space

Demand for places in special needs schools in Lincolnshire has dramatically risen in recent years, increasingly outpacing the number of available places, according to a report from Lincolnshire County Council.

Across the county, there are 108,725 children and young people in the school population, of which 18,549 have been identified as having a special educational need. Of these, 15,427 (82%) were recorded as receiving Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) support.

On a national scale, the Department for Education reported in January 2023 that nearly 1.6 million children in England are recorded as having special educational needs (SEN), with more than 500,000 of these children and young people also having an Educational Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

Lincolnshire County Council sign
Lincolnshire County Council sign

During a Lincolnshire Schools’ Forum yesterday (Thursday), Martin Smith, the assistant director of children’s education at Lincolnshire County Council, noted that demand for EHCPs had risen by 36.6% year-on-year to 6,958 in 2023 and that levels have continued to soar, reaching 7,899 by May this year.

When carrying out an education, health and care (EHC) needs assessment, local authorities are required to issue a final plan within 20 weeks of the initial request.

According to the report, Lincolnshire County Council has managed to meet this requirement for 78.2% of requests, which is higher than the national average of 49.2%, but represents a slight decline from last year’s performance.

“Our 20-week timescale for EHCP assessment is strong at 78.2%. It has decreased from the previous year but that is mainly because of the volume,” said Smith.

However, SEND sufficiency continues to be a challenge, not just in Lincolnshire, but across the whole of England.

While phase one of its Building Communities Capital program is now nearing completion, delivering 425 new special school places by September 2024, demand continues to increase rapidly.

The report states: “Despite this significant capital investment, demand is meaning that placements are not always secured as quickly as we would wish.”

Last October, about 30-40 families gathered in Lincoln’s Castle Square to protest and call for reform to the SEND system.

They claimed their children are being let down and their needs are not being met due to a lack of spaces in specialist schools.

Protest leader Corinne Bryan, 29, has two autistic children aged five and four, said families needed more support. She stated: “We need more (EHPCs), more SEND schools and more mainstream teachers to be taught properly.”

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