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Confused child

Students who wish to stay in the sixth form of their own school may be compelled to move elsewhere if the local authority can find a cheaper option.

Are you shocked and wondering why you don’t know about this? Perhaps it’s because this only applies to special needs students.

A pilot project is underway right now, in which students with special needs are being parcelled into lots and auctioned off in a bidding process. Students, each one known only as a number, are sorted into one of eight lot types and offered out to education providers who, in turn, are given three days to name their price to take them.

This procurement process, known as NE12, is being trialled by a consortium of 12 local authorities in the north-east and is being applied to all students beyond the age of 16, including those who want to stay on in their own school.

The schools and colleges are desperate to stop it in its tracks. “There are consortiums of local authorities around the country looking at it and if we make it work in the north-east it is coming to a local authority near you,” said one.

Set aside the moral repugnance of treating special needs students like some dodgy stock to be disposed of on Ebay and there are manifold problems with this process.

Apart from a number, the only other information given to a prospective school or college about the student is his or her Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), which should outline in detail his/her difficulties and the provision needed to address these. However these remain beset with problems nearly two years after their implementation, with many Plans containing inadequate or incorrect information, or missing significant issues which the schools will have to make provision for. Schools cannot undertake the usual lengthy assessments to ensure the pupil is suited to their environment.

Local authorities decide on the winning bidder according to a matrix in which cost is given the lion’s share of importance at 40%, which makes it difficult for other benefits of that school to outweigh this. Parents are compelled to take the winning bidder, even when this has not been their choice, or mount an appeal which may result in a costly and stressful Tribunal hearing.

The timescale of the process allows no time for vital transition work with these highly vulnerable students and pupils are shunted into the bid winner’s provision for a 28 day trial.

How could anyone with an ounce of knowledge about special needs come up with this idea? This cannot work for students who need a great deal of careful work before any transition. It is searingly obvious that many placements arranged in this haphazard way are going to fail.

The schools and colleges which are subject to this process are distraught but in fear of speaking out because they rely so heavily on this business from local authorities to fill their places. Some local authority officers are also privately saying how uncomfortable they are with it and are trying to circumvent it. “It’s resulting in almost a black market in special needs pupils,” one school leader told us.

It’s in danger of being introduced more widely by stealth – at a recent gathering of special needs professionals, few were aware of it. But it cannot be allowed to take root. What kind of society sells its most vulnerable to the lowest bidder?

Bernadette John

Director of SEN at The Good Schools Guide

June 2016

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