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Fears cuts to special needs education in Gateshead could jeopardise children’s futures

Young people with special educational ne could see their future life chances jeopardised by a new council policy, a charity has warned.

Gateshead Council looks set to pull funding for some special school places for over 16s because of budget pressures.

Year 14 classes, which are currently offered to those with special education ne to allow them to study at sixth form over three years, are set to be scrapped and year 13 places will only be offered to those with profound and multiple learning difficulties or severe autism.

A report to the council says that discussions have already taken place with headteachers from Cedars Academy and Hill Top to reduce the number of pupils from September 2019.

The local authority says that the cuts are needed as the services are under severe financial pressure and they overspent by £1.4m last year.

The council says there has been “a substantial increase” in the number of post-16 pupils remaining in Gateshead special schools over recent years. The commissioned number is 41 but in the 2017/18 academic year, 69 pupils were enrolled.

Charity Mencap says the cuts will restrict the choices for young people with special ne.

Mencap Policy and Strategic Lead for Children and Young People, James Robinson, said: “When funding is short, the cuts seem to increasingly fall on children with special educational ne (SEN) whose support is seen as more expensive.

“There should be a range of education and training options available for pupils with SEN to enable them to continue their education or training beyond the compulsory school age.

“The SEND Code of Practice is clear that young people should be the driver behind their own provision, so anything that restricts this choice risks jeopardising their future life chances.”

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The council’s cabinet had been due to vote on the proposals next week but have pulled the discussion from agenda, claiming it now wants to have “further discussions” before making a decision.

Caroline O’Neill, the council’s strategic director of care, wellbeing and learning, said: “No decisions have been taken yet on the issue of post 16 education for young people with special educational ne and disabilities and the council wants to have further discussions around what we can do to best support them.

“Our review of funding year 13 and 14 (or second and third year) places at sixth forms within special schools is not just about relieving the increased pressure on our budgets but about widening the possibilities for young people.

“Continuing at school is not the only option and may not always be in the best interests of the young person. Some have already spent time in sixth form, and like many young people, want to access other opportunities.

“We have some young people in Gateshead who have successfully transferred from special schools to vocational courses and then into employment. If we continue to fund these places we may not be providing the opportunities which could help our young people be better prepared for adulthood.”

Since 2015, Department for Education guidelines state that all pupils must be in education or training up until their 18th birthday.

But there are concerns that by scrapping year 13 at special schools this would make that more difficult for teenagers with special ne to stick to these rules.

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A DfE spokesman said it had increased funding for special ne education in recent years.

The spokesman said: “We have undertaken the biggest special educational ne reforms in a generation, including the introduction of Education Health and Care plans which provide tailored support based on individuals ne and can continue up to age 25.

“In addition, the high ne funding has risen from £5bn in 2013 to over £6 billion this year. In fact, in 2018-19 Gateshead has received £22.1 million to support children with special educational ne.

“Local authorities are best placed to distribute the funding for high ne budget based on local ne.”

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