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Displaying items by tag: Special Education Needs - Kent Independent Education Advice

Kent County Council has been awarded one of 39 new Special Schools to be opened across the country, following a bid to government. This will be built on the Isle of Sheppey, on land adjacent to the new Halfway Houses Primary School site,  and is planned to focus on children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs aged 11-16. Under current regulations KCC will now need to set up a tendering process to select a Sponsor from an existing academy chain to run the new school. As explained below, this can be a drawn out and uncertain process, with the opening date not yet fixed.

This follows approval in January for the Aspire School, Sittingbourne a new Free School for children with autism or speech and language difficulties to be run by Grove Park Academies Trust, currently comprising Grove Park Primary School. It will be built on council land not far from Grove Park, both schools in Bobbing. The Aspire School came into existence because of the vision of parents as long ago as 2013. The original vision was for high functioning autistic children aged 4 -16, although final details have not yet been settled, and it is now looking likely to be for primary aged children, opening at the earliest in September 2020.

Published in Peter's Blog

UPDATE 19 March in main article. 

The Consultation launched by the Interim Executive Board of Furness School and Kent County Council on a proposal to close the school ends on 25th March. I have written several articles on this highly flawed and controversial proposal previously, but this one looks at my perspective on the current situation. 

The first of three main reasons being put forward for the closure of this special school for high functioning children suffering from Autistic Spectrum Disorder is that parents have asked the Council to develop mainstream provision rather than further provision in Special schools. This assertion  appears now to have been discredited for KCC has been unable to provide evidence for the claim and KCC’s Corporate Director of Education has now acknowledged that there is well-evidenced increased demand for Special School places.

The key problem that parents have had responding to the Consultation is the consistent failure of KCC to answer the central questions about the proposal to close. I have the same frustration and formally requested the answers to 11 questions from Mr Leeson, questions that are also being asked by parents at meetings and in writing. Sadly, his reply to me only answered three of these. The ‘Kent On Sunday’ newspaper also asked the same questions with little success. What is the point of a Consultation where the key facts are being hidden from parents, and can it really be regarded as legitimate?

This rather lengthy article explores the powerful case for keeping the Furness School open, albeit under a different name, and yet again exposes the failures of KCC over its mismanagement of the whole issue………

Published in News and Comments

CONSIDERABLY UPDATED WITH CORRECTIONS ARISING FROM FEEDBACK: 10TH FEBRUARY

Kent County Council has announced a Consultation on the closure of Furness School in Hextable. This is a scandal at the conclusion of four years of mismanagement by KCC, ending with a consultation that is a classic in misdirection.  I wrote a previous article in 2012 entitled “Is this the most damning Kent OFSTED Report ever? Furness School”, which has set the scene for this denouement three years later. 

Much of KCC’s argument for closure is false, based on two false premises, firstly that pupil numbers are low and getting lower, and secondly that education standards are low and not improving, as evidenced by the poor OFSTED Reports.

The school was redesignated to provide for high functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder children (ASD) last September, replacing Behavioural, Emotional and Social Disorder (BESD). This year, ASD numbers are already 22 including an unspecified number of high functioning children (rather an important detail I would have thought), with BESD just 8, and new admissions discouraged or prohibited for much of the second half of 2012 for two years. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the trend in ASD is upwards, whilst BESD numbers would soon become insignificant.

All published OFSTED Reports refer to the now vanishing BESD group in the school, and in any case, show a strong upward trend in quality, which KCC has failed to notice!  The most recent report of December 2013 records that: “the principal has led the continuing, and at times dramatic, improvement of the school with unwavering determination. In this, she is supported by a strong senior leadership team and increasingly effective middle leaders”.   
 
Just seven months ago, KCC published its proposal for the new designation, which came about in September, which actually beggars belief in failing to identify ANY of the issues they now claim are central to the closure proposal. If the claims were true (which they are not), this would be gross negligence at a minimum. 
 
As a consequence of the proposal, the families of vulnerable children can see their education and life chances severely damaged as they are destabilised (over half of them for the second time in a year), money poured down the drain and SEN policy casually cast aside or misrepresented, accompanied by KCC attempts to show this is all to their benefit. 

I find it difficult to know where to start to pick my way through the complexities that have led to the KCC decision to close the school, but the article that follows attempts to cast the story in a historical perspective……

Published in Peter's Blog
Monday, 27 January 2014 12:28

Places in Special Schools and SEN Units

Kent County Council is shortly to introduce an SEN and Disability Strategy seeking to improve and re-focus the provision of school places for children with Statements of Special Education Need  (SSEN) and to raise standards of performance. This article looks at the Council's plans to increase the number of places in Special Schools and Specialist Resource Based Units by at least 275 children over the next four years. KCC has already published a Commissioning Plan that sets out its SEN provision needs, recognising an increase in the number of children with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorders), SLCN (Speech, Language and Communication Difficulties); and BESN (Behavioural, Emotional and Social Needs) across the county, putting great pressure on current provision. This article is based on that plan, and was reproduced in a slightly abbreviated form in Kent on Sunday on 24th January.....

Published in News and Comments

Kent County Council is introducing an SEN and Disability Strategy seeking to improve and re-focus the provision of school places for children with Statements of Special Education Need  (SSEN) and to raise standards of performance. This article looks at its plans to increase the number of places in Special Schools and Specialist Resource Based Units by at least 275 over the next four years. The strategy recognises an increase in the number of children with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorders), SLCN (Speech, Language and Communication Difficulties); and BESN (Behavioural, Emotional and Social Needs) across the county, putting great pressure on current provision.

Of some 6,500 Kent pupils currently with SSEN, around 3000 are in Special Schools, and 800 in Units. Most of the remainder are supported in mainstream schools. In total, these children comprise some 2.8% of the school population, but take up around 20% of the county direct school education budget.

Over half of the places in Special Schools are for children with Profound, Severe and Complex Needs, most of which have recently expanded to take in around 250 extra children in total.

Kent is now proposing a further expansion of 275 places for ASD, SLCN and BESN in Special Schools and Units.......

Published in Newspaper Articles

Furness School in Swanley is a special school which provides for boarding and day students who have behavioural, social and emotional difficulties. It has just 77 pupils, mostly boys, including 14 in boarding accommodation (one female) on site. All students have a statement of special educational needs and most students have previously experienced significant disruption to their education due to exclusion or non-attendance. Certainly Furness is a challenging school, but one that requires the highest standards for its children, many of whom have had seriously disrupted lives so far, and desperately need the stable education that other similar schools in Kent appear to be able to provide.

Kent County Council recognised there were problems back in February, and the headteacher was removed. However, in such a serious situation the consequences of losing the school figurehead need to be carefully managed, and insufficient thought appears to have been given to handling the fallout. KCC also removed the school governing body at the time, but did not follow the rules in doing so, and they were reinstated, only to be removed a second time - this time properly. The school was closed for three days in February, reportedly as it was out of control, and partially closed again later in the month. Since then KCC has been running the school directly using an interim leadership team and support from county officials. However, three months later, on May 15th and 16th, two of Her Majesty's Inspectors carried out an OFSTED Inspection which has produced the damning report published last week.  

In particular this condemns the interim management and leadership of the school installed by KCC, including the following comments:.........

Published in News Archive
Thursday, 29 September 2011 15:42

Good news for Kent Special Education Needs

I was delighted to accept an invitation to the opening of the Laural Centre, an SEN Unit  for children on the Autistic Spectrum, attached to The North School in Ashford. This is the first Unit to be opened since the reversal of county policy two years ago that sought to phase out all SEN units in the county. The Centre was opened by Paul Carter, Leader of KCC, who has been a strong champion of SEN Units and Special Schools in Kent........

Published in News Archive
There has been considerable debate about the article I wrote for Kent on Sunday, based on figures I  found through FOI, for the very high number of Kent children permanently excluded, especially those with Statements of Special Education Need. The BBC 1 Politics Show for viewers in the South East (not London) is featuring the issue on Sunday at 11 a.m., including.......
Published in News Archive

The following item served the basis for an article in KOS on 11 June 2011, and also triggered the front page news story.

A Freedom of Information request I submitted has revealed a number of alarming features in the pattern of permanent exclusions (expulsions) in Kent schools.

The first two new style academies created in Kent top the list of permanent exclusions between September and Easter, headed by Westlands School in Sittingbourne with 11. Next is Canterbury High School with nine permanent exclusions.

Both these schools previously had outstanding Ofsted reports, so it is difficult to believe they have difficult disciplinary problems.

Other schools with high numbers of permanent exclusions over this period are: Chaucer Technology School, also in Canterbury (nine); Hartsdown Technology College (converting to an academy – eight) and the Marlowe Academy both in Thanet (seven); and Astor College for the Arts in Dover (seven).

The total over this period is rising alarmingly already being almost the same as for the whole of 2009-10.

In general, an excluded child does not just go away, they are moved to another school to be given a fresh chance but, as this will usually be one of the few with vacancies in the area, it just heaps the problems on a possibly struggling school.

Of particular concern is the number of children  with statements of special education needs (SEN) who continue to be permanently excluded, in spite of government policy that “schools should avoid permanently excluding pupils with statements, other than in the most exceptional circumstances”.

While I don’t yet have figures for this year, in 2009-10 out of a total of 168 secondary exclusions 22 were of statemented children, a further 68 being of other children with SEN, together over half of the total.

However, the most astonishing and alarming statistic in this whole survey is that nearly all of the 34 Kent primary school exclusions in the last school year were of children with Special Education Needs, with 13 statemented children and another 18 with SEN.

 

So much for Kent. Meanwhile up in Medway there is a remarkably different picture. The council reports that there were just three permanent exclusions from Medway Secondary Schools in 2009-10 (none statemented), and none from primary schools. For 2010-11 the reported figure is currently zero, although Medway Council has subsequently claimed it is unaware of at least three permanent exclusions from Bishop of Rochester Academy, even though it would have responsibility for those children, so this figure needs to be treated with some caution.

 

This all begs many questions. Firstly, why are the pictures in Kent and Medway so very different?

Medway may only have around one sixth of the children being educated in Kent, but this does not come close to explaining why some Kent schools resort to formal exclusion proceedings so often, whereas Medway can avoid a dramatic, stressful and bureaucratic process so effectively.

Medway schools have always co-operated well over what are called ‘managed moves’ to a fresh school, although whether this will continue when all are independent academies remains to be seen.

How can Kent primary schools exclude children with statements in such numbers, compared to a negligible number of children without special needs, in direct contradiction to the government imperative that this should only happen in exceptional circumstances?

Why does Kent but not Medway have so many exceptional circumstances?

Once again KCC is seeing children who surely deserve the highest standard of care, at the bottom of the pile (see last week’s Kent on Sunday).

Another factor to add to KCC’s Scrutiny Committee investigation into primary school standards.

What is special about Westlands and Canterbury High apart from the fact they are outstanding Ofsted schools, that they need to take this extreme action, effectively forcing these children to less popular and successful schools, whereas others, often in far more difficult situations, appear to be able to manage better? Are they showing the future for academies?

What happens to the schools that become ‘dumping grounds’ for children excluded by other schools better able to cope with them?

Above all, why does KCC not look at Medway’s procedures to learn how to improve these dreadful figures?

Published in Newspaper Articles

I gave an interview on Radio Kent (today) supporting a letter written by Sarah Hohler (Kent County Council Cabinet Member for Education) to Michael Gove urging him to reconsider the inclusion of many children with SEN in Government performance tables as they distorted the achievements of schools. I made three points:.........

Published in News Archive
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