How North Yorkshire is coping with increased SEND demand
Last updated Apr 2, 2024
young child going to school

A “dire situation” and “under pressure” – those are just two phrases used to describe North Yorkshire’s special educational needs services.

Over the last year, North Yorkshire Council has received more than 1,200 applications for support from parents with SEND children.

The figure is a significant increase on last year and has left council staff under pressure and parents frustrated.

Meanwhile, to compound matters further, the authority has a lack of places in special educational needs schools.

The Stray Ferret has covered the matter extensively with interviews with families with SEND children and the political fallout from the increased demand.

In this article, we look at how the council is coping with the matter and what it means for parents in the Harrogate district.

Thousands of requests

The demand on council services for SEND children was laid bare this month.

A report before councillors on Harrogate and Knaresborough area constituency committee on March 14 showed a significant increase in the number of education health and care plans submitted to the council.

The plans detail a child’s needs and are given to schools to consider ahead of a potential admission.

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The council received 1,275 request for EHC plans in 2023 – a rise of 30% on the previous year.

Of that number, 600 were either awaiting assessment, had yet to be issued or were still being finalised.

Amanda Newbold, assistant director for education and skills at North Yorkshire Council, told councillors that part of the problem was a lack of educational psychologists to help deal with requests.

The council has since hired part time and trainee psychologists and sought agency staff to help address the backlog in plans.

Ms Newbold said:

“Where we have identified issues, we are doing everything possible to rectify that. It is an issue that we are aware of and it’s an issue that we are not happy about.”

‘Dire situation’

The council says its recruitment will help to tackle the timeliness in issuing plans to parents.

However, Emily Mitchell, who is co-founder of SenKind, a support group for parents of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) in North Yorkshire, said the demand remains troubling.

Ms Mitchell, who lives in Harrogate and whose daughter Elsie is non-verbal and autistic, told the Stray Ferret that the upward trend in ECH plans had happened year on year but felt little had been done to address it.

She said:

“Year after year, we’ve witnessed this upward trend, yet little has changed to address the pressing needs of SEN children and their families in North Yorkshire.

“The situation is dire. The demand for specialist school places far exceeds availability, leaving countless children without the tailored support they require to thrive academically and socially.”

Emily Mitchell with her daughter Elsie.

Emily Mitchell with her daughter Elsie.

Ms Mitchell, who had her own struggles with getting Elsie into an appropriate school in Harrogate last year, said more needed to be done on a local and national level to tackle growing demand for EHC plans.

She said:

“The influx of EHCP requests underscores the urgent need for action at both local and national levels.

“While some measures have been introduced to address these challenges, they fall short of providing the comprehensive support needed to alleviate the strain on SEN families, especially in North Yorkshire.

“It’s time for meaningful action to ensure that every child, regardless of their abilities, has access to the support and resources they need to succeed.”

Number one financial challenge

The matter over increased demand in North Yorkshire reached the House of Commons in January.

Harrogate and Knaresborough MP, Andrew Jones, said that senior council officers told him that special educational needs was the biggest financial challenge for them.

Speaking in parliament, he said recent changes to the Children and Families Act 2014 were believed to have led to 1,000 extra claims for financial assistance in North Yorkshire alone last year.

Andrew Jones

Andrew Jones, Harrogate and Knaresborough MP.

Mr Jones said:

“I have met with several families in my constituency whose children have education, health and care plans, yet they still experience difficulties finding special educational needs and disabilities support.

“I have taken up their cases with senior council officers, who tell me that SEND is the number one financial challenge for the council.

“In North Yorkshire alone, the council believes 1,000 cases last year were attributable to changes made by that Act.”

Aside from hiring staff to tackle its backlog, North Yorkshire Council has sought to increase places in specialist schools for pupils.

The authority agreed proposals to create a facility at the former Woodfield Community Primary School in Bilton in August 2023, which is expected to cost £3.5 million to establish.

Recently, it advertised for an academy sponsor for the site with a target open date of April 2025.

Meanwhile, it is also planning to provide additional special school places at Springwater School in Starbeck from September 2025.

The move would help to create additional capacity for 45 pupils at the school.

The project is expected to be funded through £3.1 million from its High Needs Provision Capital Allocation provided by government.

For the council, it hopes its measures will help to tackle demand for SEND pupils. However, parents appear yet to be convinced.