'Rebooted' North Yorkshire high needs education structure revealed
The first specific details about North Yorkshire's rejigged high needs provision have been released, under new plans which will see students with complex behavioural and educational requirements taught in mainstream schools.
The authority said that under the new model, 31 "enhanced mainstream bases" will be established which will provide over 200 places across the county.
Of these, 17 will be primary schools offering up to eight places each.
Another 14 will be secondary schools offering between 8 and 15 places each.
According to the authority, 15 schools have expressed interest so far in hosting the programme, with further engagement work planned with schools across the county early in the new school term.
According to the council there are currently 20 schools across North Yorkshire which provide enhanced support for special needs children.
The county council voted in February in favour of adopting a range of measures to overhaul its high needs budget, as the authority aims to claw back a predicted £5.5m overspend attributed to Government underfunding.
The restructure, the county council says, has an emphasis on driving down exclusion rates, in a move that will see prevention funding shifted from its pupil referral service (PRS) to new school partnerships with mainstream schools.
North Yorkshire's executive member for education and skills, County Councillor Patrick Mulligan, said the changes were about "best practice", with the move set against a backdrop of spiralling numbers of students requiring high needs education, against claims of chronic Government underfunding.
“This new model of enhanced provision for special needs children and young people will build a bridge between mainstream and special education so that where possible children with education, health and care plans can continue to be educated in mainstream schools."
“We felt it was time to remodel our provision given the growing number of children requiring education, health and care plans.
"We needed to provide more permanent places in mainstream so that children can enjoy teaching and learning within their local communities whenever possible. At present there are very few permanent special needs places in mainstream schools.”
The changes in high needs funding, which will see funding cut to PRS services in the county, have been vehemently opposed by local group Save The PRS.
There are five referral units in the county, with staff at Harrogate's Grove Academy concerned the funding cuts will see them forced to close by Christmas.
Save The PRS campaigner and Grove Academy English teacher Alex Boyce said concerns were still high regarding the new model.
Among local fears were the level of provision that would be available in the Harrogate and Knaresborough area.
"There's still going to be a dramatic shortage in the provision for at least the next year," he said.
"The cuts to services are too rapid and the new special school and alternative provision places will take years to materialise so there will be a significant shortfall in provision for at least the next year."
Coun Mulligan said the "reboot" of the enhanced mainstream service would mean changes for some families, but was "good news".
"It will mean changes for some schools and some families, but support will be maintained for children who currently receive it and will be enhanced for some," he said.
"This is good news and a significant commitment on the part of the county council, despite the well documented funding challenges being seen locally and nationally.”
Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter