Education Committee - Pre-legislative scrutiny: Special Educational NeedsWritten evidence submitted by National Association of Independent Schools and Non-Maintained Special Schools (NASS)

Summary

1. NASS broadly welcomes the proposals set out in the draft Bill clauses to create a single assessment framework from 0–25 and to move towards Education, Health and Care Plans. We were particularly pleased to note that the Bill proposes that parents will have a right to express a preference for a Non-Maintained Special School. However, we were very disappointed that this right was not extended to Independent Special Schools. We believe that this restricts the choice of over 10% of parents seeking special school education for their child. We believe that no plausible argument has been given for why independent schools should not be included before the Bill is introduced Parliament and are keen to see the Department for Education’s current position reversed as a result of this period of scrutiny.

2. We know that the then Children’s Minister Sarah Teather stated in her letter (3rd September 2012) to the Chairman of the Education Committee that there was a mixed position from the Independent Sector on whether to be included within provisions. However, NASS would dispute this and make the point that we are united alongside the Children’s Services Development Group and the Independent Schools Council in calling on the Department for Education to clearly define what constitutes an “Independent Special School” for the definition of the Bill. NASS calls on the Department to include those Independent Special Schools within the defined list of schools that parents will have a right to express a preference for.

Background

3. NASS is the only national umbrella body for special schools outside Local Authority control. We represent 215 special schools across England and Wales and now include Free Special Schools and Special Academies in membership.

4. There were approximately 15,000 children and young people with statements of SEN placed in Non-maintained and Independent Special Schools (NMISS) in January 2012. This represents 17% of the 103,000 children and young schools with statements of SEN placed in special schools.

NASS’s response to the Children and Families Bill draft clauses

5. NASS broadly welcomes the proposals set out in the SEND Green paper and translated into draft clauses for a Children and Families Bill. We believe that it is right to move towards a single assessment framework and for this to apply to children and young people from birth up to the age of 25. We welcome the introduction of Education, Health and Care plans.

6. We are concerned that the position of young people from the ages of 19–25 is relatively weak—particularly for young people with profound and complex needs. We understand that young people will only be entitled to an Education, Health and Care plan whilst they are in full-time education. We believe that this potentially excludes young people for whom there are few clear cut educational opportunities and yet these young people are most likely to benefit from the continued protections of a Plan.

7. NASS is delighted that the Bill proposes that parents will have a right to express a preference for a Non-Maintained Special School However, our key area of concern, and the focus of this evidence, is the decision not to include Independent Special Schools within the defined list of schools that parents will have a right to express a preference for. We believe strongly that this decision is wrong and should be reversed prior to the Bill being presented to Parliament.

8. We believe that there is no good policy reason for excluding Independent Special Schools and that there will be a negative impact on parents seeking placements in independent schools. We also believe that there will be a negative impact on Independent Schools themselves as they will not be fully included within the continuum of provision for children with SEND. We believe that any practical difficulties relating to the definition of what constitutes an “Independent Special School” would be relatively simple to remedy and that the Bill presents an excellent opportunity to finally provide clarity on this issue.

Why NASS believes that Independent Special Schools should be included in the duty on schools to admit a child with an education, health and care plan naming the school as the school to be attended by the child

9. Independent Special Schools offer a highly specialised service, generally addressing a small number of Special Educational Needs and employing well-qualified and specialist staff. One of the key features of the sector is the ability of schools to offer a holistic service and a “one stop shop” where children can access high quality education, social care and health services on one site.

10. The Independent Schools regulatory framework enables schools to offer flexible and innovative provision in key areas such as curriculum and staff employment. This has been recognised by Government when seeking to stimulate the creation of innovative new SEN provision—both Special Academies and Special Free Schools follow the Independent Schools regulatory framework.

11. The two factors noted above are key reasons why parents are keen to seek placements in the Independent Sector. Currently, 1 in 10 children with statements of SEN in special school provision are placed in Independent Schools. Given that a key aim of the planned SEN reforms is stop parents facing such a fight to achieve the placement of their choice, NASS is extremely concerned that at least 10% of parents seeking a special school placement for their child will still be caught up within a highly adversarial process. We do not believe that this is acceptable. As noted, in many cases, provision in independent schools is so specialised that it may be the only placement that could meet the needs of a given child. A high percentage of specialist autistic spectrum condition provision is within the Independent sector—including schools run by the National Autistic Society.

12. Within NASS membership, over 90% of placements are funded through the public purse via Local Authorities. Placements are generally made when the placing Local Authority has been unable to meet the needs of the child or young person through their own provision. NASS believes that Independent Special Schools should be included within the definition of a “state funded school”.

13. Research by Baker Tilly, commissioned by NASS, indicates that provision in Independent Special Schools is a cost effective option. The report from October 2012 (available at http://www.nasschools.org.uk/) indicates that a day or weekly or fortnightly boarding placement in a NMISS is cheaper than the equivalent package of support being provided by a Local Authority. No significant differences were found between the costs of Independent school and Non-Maintained Special School provision. Residential placements of 38 and 52 weeks in length are generally used for children and young people with the most complex needs and offer high quality provision at a competitive cost compared to other types of residential provision.

14. A second report by Baker Tilly (October 2012 www.nasschools.org.uk ) has explored the value a placement in a NMISS through considering its social impact. A good school placement, which meets all the needs of a child or young person, has a lasting impact on their future employment, health and social care needs. There is a similar impact on the parents and siblings of the disabled child. Baker Tilly has calculated that the return to society over a 25 year period is between £150,000–600,000 per young person placed, with an average return of c. £260,000. If the findings of this study were replicated across the Independent Special School sector, this would represent annual savings and returns of approximately £600 million.

15. Whilst the proposed duty places responsibilities on schools, it also places a corresponding duty on Local Authorities to treat that school as a full partner in its planning and delivery of SEN services. Given the vital role that they play for children with complex SEN and Disabilities, we are very concerned about Independent Special Schools being outside of these arrangements. Over time, we think that this will lead to a reduction in the number of placements being made in the sector and could threaten the sustainability of some schools. NASS’s 2012 “State of the Sector” survey indicated that few Local Authorities plan placements in advance and that schools generally have little idea of whether or not they will have enough placements across a year to remain viable.

16. It has been suggested by the Department for Education that there is not widespread support for the inclusion of Independent Schools across the sector. NASS refutes this. We polled our members three times in 2010 and 2011. 81% were in support of inclusion of the Independent Sector, 9% were unsure and only 10% were opposed to inclusion. Whilst schools are concerned about the practical implications of a “duty to admit”, NASS members believe that inclusion is necessary to ensure that our sector is a fully-fledged partner in SEN planning and service delivery. This position is shared by our colleagues in the National Autistic Society and the Children’s Services Development Group—who will be making their own submissions to you.

17. On 19th September, NASS met colleagues from the Independent Schools Council. Contrary to what has been reported by the Department for Education and Sarah Teather’s letter to the Chairman of the Education Committee following the publication of the draft provisions, there is support from both organisations for the Department for Education clarifying the legal definition of “Independent Special School” and, consequently, being clear about which independent schools would be within the scope of parental preference, for the purposes of the Bill. NASS would note that there are currently approximately 15 special schools within Independent Schools Council membership, compared to over 150 within NASS.

18. We believe that lack of a high quality data set for placements in Independent Special Schools was a key reason why the sector was dropped from the High Needs Placements Funding reforms at the last minute. NASS has campaigned for a separate legal category of Independent Special School since 2006 but, in the past, the Department for Education has stated that this is not necessary. NASS believe this is now urgent for the following reasons:

(a)It would give a distinct status to a relatively small group of schools, offering provision to some of the most vulnerable children in the country.

(b)It would enable the DfE to stipulate different data return requirements to mainstream independent schools. This would offer clarity for funding purposes and would potentially allow for pupil outcomes to be tracked.

(c)It would enable this publically funded group of schools to be included in initiatives to raise school standards.

(d)It would consequently remove the practical barriers for including Independent Special Schools within the SEN and School Funding reforms.

19. NASS believes that creating a separate legal category of Independent Special School would not be a very challenging task. We note that for administrative purposes, the DfE itself has long used the definition of “Independent Schools catering wholly or mainly for children with SEN”, maintaining separate lists of such schools. On registration, independent schools are asked to self-identify as special schools and we understand that the percentage of students with statements of SEN is also taken into account.

20. We believe that the DfE could make a clear distinction between schools to be included within the proposed duty and schools to remain outside by basing the definition of Independent Special School on the percentage of students publically funded (we suggest a figure of 90%) and/or the percentage of students with statements of SEN (we suggest a figure of 75%). We are wary of limiting inclusion on the basis of school size, given that Independent Special Schools tend to be smaller than in the Local Authority maintained sector.

21. NASS believes that the forthcoming Bill provides an excellent legislative opportunity to clarify the legal position of Independent Special Schools.

22. NASS has supported its members to make their own representations to the Select Committee and a number of these are attached as appendices to our submission. These submissions give schools an opportunity to set out the difference that they have made to individual students. We believe that these case studies are important in understanding the value of the sector to children, young people and their families.

23. NASS would be keen to give oral evidence to the Committee, either directly or through a member school.

November 2012

Prepared 19th December 2012