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Special schools alert

PUBLISHED: 09:41 09 March 2009 | UPDATED: 13:15 03 July 2010

Growing numbers of Norfolk's neediest children cannot get places in the county's special schools because they are full.

A surge in the number of children with special needs is putting a strain on the system, meaning more of the children are being sent to private schools in and outside Norfolk, which can be much more costly.

Growing numbers of Norfolk's neediest children cannot get places in the county's special schools because they are full.

A surge in the number of children with special needs is putting a strain on the system, meaning more of the children are being sent to private schools in and outside Norfolk, which can be much more costly.

Meanwhile, scores of children who are at the county's 12 special schools face more than two hours a day in taxis to get to their classrooms because they live so far from the provision they need.

The number educated in non-mainstream schools hit 177 at the beginning of 2008/9 - up 21pc from 139 the previous year, and more than two-and-a-half times the 69 in 2000/1.

In the 12 months since January 2008 the number of children at the 12 special schools has risen by 42, leaving just 37 spare places at the beginning of this year.

Because the schools cater for such a range of problems, the needs of a child requiring a place cannot always be met by the schools that have space. The issue contributes to the increasing number of children being placed in private special schools.

The problems are outlined in a report to Wednesday's Norfolk County Council children's services panel.

The report points out that many of the issues are being addressed through the current review of special educational needs education in the county, which will see the existing schools turned into complex needs schools and 59 specialist resource bases set up at mainstream schools - up from the current level of 39 learning support units.

Officers hope the overhaul will reduce the number of private placements and cut down on travelling time to and from school for many pupils, by spreading provision more evenly across Norfolk.

The report says: “Our special schools are not located according to the needs of children and young people in relation to where they live. This results in children travelling significant distances from these areas daily in order to access provision.

“The new strategy will ensure that the needs of all children and young people with special and additional needs will have those needs met within their local learning community, no matter where they live.”

It says work is underway to formulate a “new approach to residential provision” to ensure that in future children will not have to move outside of mainstream provision.

The report also includes maps that show how far day pupils at each of the 12 special schools have to travel each day from their homes.

The worst examples includes:

Sidestrand Hall School, near Cromer, where one child has a 90-mile return journey from King's Lynn and at least 15 are driven the 30 miles from Yarmouth and Gorleston.

The report says that while the total number of Norfolk children aged four-15 has fallen from 104,934 in 2006 to 101,036 this year, those with special educational needs have surged from 9,549 to 11,262.

It adds there has also been a rise in the “complexity” of the needs of pupils, largely because medical advances mean children who may have died at birth or been more seriously disabled in the past are now attending school.

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