Consultation on changes to SEND provision in Herts schools
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Consultation will begin in June on plans to increase special educational needs (SEND) support for children in Hertfordshire schools, but up to seven bases for speech, language and communication needs could close.
Hertfordshire County Council's Cabinet has agreed to consult on proposals to create nine primary specialist resource provisions (SRPs) for children and young people with severe speech disorders, developmental language disorder and social communication difficulties, including autism.
Councillors heard that many children and young people with developmental language disorder and severe speech motor disorders are currently provided for by Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) bases attached to mainstream schools.
However, "with many now having a broader and more complex level of need, including autism and social communication difficulties, creating SRPs at mainstream schools will allow these pupils to access a mainstream curriculum, balanced with a safe space to be in, where work can be done to support their self-regulation and emotional wellbeing," a spokesman for the county council said.
The plans include creating five new SRPs at primary schools - Camps Hill in Stevenage, Margaret Wix in St Albans, Maple Grove in Hemel Hempstead, Warren Dell in South Oxhey and Avanti Brook in Bishop's Stortford.
It is also proposed that existing bases for SLCN needs at Sauncey Wood in Harpenden, Downfield in Cheshunt and Cowley Hill in Borehamwood are re-designated as SRPs.
If approved, six SRPs are expected to open from September 2023 and a further two in 2024, with a ninth site still to be identified. Giles Nursery and Infants' School in Stevenage will retain its SLCN base until a suitable site is found.
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Views are also being sought on closing seven existing SLCN bases, including at Round Diamond Primary School in Stevenage, Hillshott Infant School and Nursery in Letchworth and secondary school Onslow St Audrey’s in Hatfield, after "some existing bases chose not to continue due to their school circumstances," a spokesman for the county council said.
The county council spokesman said: "Hertfordshire continues to experience high demand for specialist provision, with a 37 per cent increase in pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) in the last three years.
"As a result, we are currently identifying a ninth SRP, proposed in the North Herts area. This will offer a better geographical spread in response to the relative density of population and increase in demand, to ensure more children can secure a local school place."
Councillor Terry Douris, Herts County Council's Cabinet member for education and lifelong learning, said: “We want all children and young people, whatever their need, to be able to attend a good school that helps them thrive while providing the support that they need.
“SEND is really important to us and we are committed to investing in this area to support children, young people and their parents.
“These SRPs will be created as centres of excellence and will work alongside the already-approved four SRPs which will open in our secondary schools this year and next.”
The consultation comes after Stevenage ran out of money in September to help children with emerging learning difficulties.
A letter sent to schools by County Hall said the entire Local High Needs Funding (LHNF) budget for the borough had been spent in a single meeting 'due to high level of demand', warning further funding may not become available until April.
LHNF funds classroom support for children with emerging complex needs, who do not yet have an EHCP, which is a formal legal document that identifies the educational, health and social needs of a specific child or young person up to the age of 25.
In January, the county council was ordered by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to pay £900 for a 15-month delay in issuing an updated EHCP for a Herts schoolboy, who has autism, difficulties in controlling his emotions and experiences severe anxiety.
The county council said it had "reviewed working practices" in response to the ombudsman's findings.