We held two sessions in June and July this year for parent carers to share views and experiences about specialist facilities in mainstream schools. The purpose of these sessions was to ensure the parent carer voice is included in the local authority’s planning and monitoring of educational provision in East Sussex.
Specialist facilities in mainstream schools are described as:
A dedicated unit within a mainstream school to provide pupils with access to specialist support as well as the opportunity to learn and interact alongside mainstream peers. All pupils in specialist facilities have an EHC (education, health, and care) Plan, and admissions are managed through EHCP processes, with funding from the local authority. (East Sussex County Council presentation, June 2023)
The local authority was keen to hear from families about the most important aspects to consider when monitoring and evaluating the facilities: what information and data should they be collecting, and what should they be looking at and asking about when they carry out visits?
ESPCF highlighted that there are broader considerations around specialist facilities that must also be considered. Given that increasing the number of specialist facilities in mainstream schools seems to be the direction the council is going in, it is important we know what families think about this: are more specialist facilities what is needed?
These sessions were for parent carers to speak directly with the local authority about all of these aspects and we are very grateful to those who took part and shared their views.
Thank you also to those who were unable to attend these sessions but sent in feedback and views directly via email or social media.
The importance of the whole school approach
Monitoring of specialist facilities needs to be done alongside the rest of the school, not separately. This is because the effectiveness of specialist facilities in supporting those children accessing them is hugely dependent on how well the rest of the school can meet their needs too.
As above, this links to the whole school approach. ALL school staff need to be better equipped to understand and meet the needs of SEND (special educational needs & disabilities) children, not just those staff working directly in the specialist facility.
The local authority must involve pupils and parent carers in its monitoring work of the facilities. It is important to get a real, on-the-ground picture of how the facilities are working day-to-day.
Accountability and consequences
How is good practice shared, both with other special facilities but also with other schools with their own SEND ‘hubs’ or ‘units’. Also, what happens if issues are identified?
For some children, even the very best specialist facilities will not be suitable if the wider school environment is a barrier for the child. Some families are experiencing the local authority naming a specialist facility on their child’s EHCP (education, health, and care plan) and having to appeal against this if they don’t think it can meet their child’s needs and that a specialist school placement is needed instead.
Plans to increase specialist facilities places shouldn’t mean that the local authority stops carefully looking at what gaps there are in specialist school provision and how to address these.
Judith Lunnon, senior manager for SEN Practice and Standards at East Sussex County Council (ESCC), attended both sessions to hear your feedback. Judith is leading the work around monitoring and evaluation of the facilities, so we will be working with her on how these key aspects can be included, and will of course share any information we have with our members.
All of the feedback will also help ESPCF represent views to the local authority about the development of new facilities.
We hope these sessions will be the start of the conversations with families around this, not the end!
ESPCF and ESCC have already begun to put together a parent carer survey for when monitoring visits are being carried out to ensure the parent carer voice contributes to the evaluation of how well the facilities are working for the children there.