‘Special needs’ pupil exclusions tumbling as council accepts more must be done

One of Barnsley’s most senior council officials has admitted she would expect an Ofsted inspection of the town’s system of dealing with children’s special educational needs to highlight the need for action.

Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 7:38 pm
Updated Friday, 8th November 2019, 12:18 pm

Barnsley Council has been working for several years along with the borough’s schools and the area’s health service to improve the services it offers to SEND children, those with special educational needs and disabilities.

Positive steps have now been reported to councillors – including a sharp decline in numbers excluded from school last year and an even bigger reduction anticipated for the current educational year – but Rachel Dickinson, the council’s Executive Director in the People Directorate, told councillors: “It is our view we would receive areas of action from Ofsted if they were to come and inspect us today”.

Providing the best services to help SEND children is a complex area and spans the responsibility of the council, health service and schools, meaning they have to work together to find the best answers.

Changes were made in 2014 which were regarded as positive and more work has happened in the meantime, with some new working systems expected to come into operation in the Spring.

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Councillors on a ‘scrutiny’ panel, with the task of analysing the council’s performance, were told by the director a plan was in place to address “significant” areas of work.

Part of that will involve trying to identify children’s needs as early as possible, then putting the most appropriate measures in place.

“The whole system in Barnsley is focused on supporting that delivery plan but we feel we have some way to go.”

There has been recent attention on numbers of SEND pupils facing exclusion from school and councillors were told those figures were being driven down.

Nick Bowen, executive principal of Horizon Community College and chairman of the Barnsley Schools Alliance told councillors: “You will see a huge reduction in exclusions across Barnsley schools this year, a massive reduction of fixed term exclusions with SEND. That is the massive challenge the Alliance has taken to schools.

“The first half term (this year), exclusions have reduced exponentially.”

Scrutiny board chairman Coun Jeff Ennis said there was a “suspicion” that academies excluded SEND pupils to help improve their overall academic records.

Mr Bowen responded: “That is absolutely not the case.”

Coupled to the reduction in exclusions is a new level of transparency, where if a child’s behaviour warrants exclusion that is what happens and is recorded as such, rather than a previous system of ‘swaps’ where children were placed in alternative schools for a fresh start.

Providing for SEND pupils is a financial challenge for schools, which are expected to meet additional costs of up to £6,000 per pupil from their own budget.

In areas where parents had a preferred school and were able to choose that, it may mean a large number of SEND pupils attending one school, while another had an artificially low number – creating unbalanced budgetary pressures between different schools.