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Seventy-five children from one special school chalk up £3 million legal bill

Seventy-five children from one special school chalk up £3 million legal bill

🕔29.Nov 2012

Teenagers ran up a £3 million bill in court appearances, police investigations and supervision during the time they attended a Birmingham special school, the Chamberlain Files can reveal.

The on-costs flowing from criminal activity while 75 pupils were at Lindsworth School in Kings Norton have been estimated at a minimum of £3,125,766 using a National Audit Office formula.

But a draft city council strategy setting out plans for Special Educational Needs provision says the true impact on the public purse of  Lindsworth pupils entering the criminal justice system is likely to be substantially more.

The estimate does not include full court or supervision costs or any undetected offences, nor does it include the social impact of offences committed, the council admitted.

Lindsworth is one of four Birmingham schools for children with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties (BESD). Eighteen months ago, 34 staff including teachers and carers were made redundant by the council after the school ran up a 3350,000 budget deficit. But there was no reduction in the number of pupils at the school, which remained at 190.

The strategy report notes: “There are concerns about outcomes for pupils from Lindsworth School in terms of youth offending, progressive disaffection and attendance.”

The report is likely to be controversial because it recommends continuing the council’s policy of attempting to integrate children with BESD and other special needs into mainstream schools wherever possible.

The document was written by two special school head teachers – Paul Roberts at Fox Hollies and Ken Lewis at Hunters Hill. It recommends establishing a city-wide school for 40 BEDSN pupils with “high levels of challenging and offending behaviour”.

There is also a proposal to develop two secondary schools each catering for 100 pupils with a range of BESD needs “with aspirational teaching and learning in core subjects”. Pupils making sufficient progress at the two schools could move back into mainstream education.

However, the authors make it clear that they believe many children with special needs should be educated at mainstream schools.

The report states: “We make a clear distinction between the needs of young people who have BESD who may become disaffected in mainstream schools and those who have long-term BESD who typically attend special schools. These groups are likely to follow different pathways and need different provision.

“However, some are able to re-integrate from special to mainstream provision with a package of support and the offer that they could return if necessary. Occasionally mainstream schools might refer a child to special provision if there is a dramatic change in their needs, but this would only occur if other routes were unsuitable and it would require statutory assessment.”

Almost 90 per cent of Birmingham children with special needs are in mainstream schools. Only three per cent of pupils in the city are ‘statemented’ by the local authority, allowing them to go to special schools.

The report continues: “When the needs of children and young people who are in specialist provision reduce they need to be supported in re-integrating into universal mainstream provision. This will enable them to participate more fully in their communities and will preserve vital capacity in specialist provision.”

The draft special needs strategy is now in the hands of the cabinet member for children and family services, Brigid Jones. It is expected to go before the cabinet early in 2013.

Coun Jones will face a difficult task in striking the right balance between mainstream and special school education for pupils with special needs. She may also be concerned about the financial implications attached to changing the system.

The draft strategy admits that financial calculations are yet to take place, although the document says short-term investment should be offset by long-term savings.

A council spokeswoman said proposals to establish new special schools appeared in the first draft of the proposed special needs strategy but had been removed from the second draft.

The spokeswoman added: “The drafting of this document is led by two special school head teachers, on behalf of the city council, as experts in this field and we are continuing to consult with parents, teachers and other affected groups.

“It is a work in progress and not a finalised policy. It is certainly not the case that we are looking to close special schools and integrate special educational needs almost entirely into mainstream schools. Every child is different and the school they attend will depend not only on their needs but on parental preference.

“We have real strength in this city in terms of SEN provision, with some of our highest performing schools being special schools. We will use this expertise to support all our schools (including academies and free schools) in the provision of education for pupils with special needs.

“With regard to Lindsworth school, this was deliberately cited in the draft report in order to highlight how vital it is to keep children with behavioural problems out of the criminal justice system and therefore the importance of preventative provision, such as the excellent work done by our behavioural support service.”

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