Understanding Special Educational Needs (SEN)
In Plymouth, a concerned father, Russell Heywood, shines a light on the formidable challenges that parents of children with special educational needs (SEN) face. SEN encompasses a broad spectrum of learning difficulties or disabilities, including conditions like autism and non-verbal communication issues, which necessitate specialized support tailored to each child’s unique requirements.
The Frustration of Waiting
Russell’s daughter, Harper, finds herself among the many children who eagerly await suitable school placements due to a scarcity of available SEN spaces. At the heart of the matter lies the agonizing wait for adequate support and educational opportunities for these children. Harper, an extraordinary four-year-old with autism, non-verbal communication skills, and a range of special sensory needs, possesses an Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHcP). Unfortunately, the lack of appropriate school spaces means that Harper’s education must be deferred for yet another year.
Russell shared his concerns, revealing that there were “no spaces at all” in any of the SEN schools in Plymouth. This scarcity of openings has impeded Harper’s timely access to education, which is paramount for her development. Furthermore, Plymouth City Council has allocated her just five hours a week at a nursery, significantly below the recommended 570 free hours of childcare per year by Gov.uk for three to four-year-old’s in England.
The Fight for a Better Future
Russell firmly believes that Harper deserves access to a specialized provisional school. He points out the frustrating incongruity between the shortage of school spaces and the existence of empty classrooms in some schools that seem to be used for storage.
Russell and his partner, Lisa, aged 39, have tirelessly sought solutions, reaching out to both the local authority and the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan. However, despite their unwavering efforts, the situation remains unresolved. Harper’s educational placement remains uncertain, and she has been placed in an “out of age cohort,” allowing her to stay in nursery for another year.
However, this arrangement comes with a significant setback – Harper is only provided with five hours of education per week. Russell firmly believes that this falls far short of what his daughter deserves. He is determined to fight for Harper’s right to full-time education, which forms an essential foundation for her future. Russell pointed out that even parents of seven-year-olds continue to struggle to secure a SEN place for their children.
Plymouth City Council’s Response
Plymouth City Council acknowledges the mounting challenges in its Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) services. A spokesperson from the council admitted that requests for special school places are exceeding the available capacity. They emphasized their commitment to exploring options to increase the number of specialist places for SEND children in the city. Plans include introducing new classroom units at schools like Cann Bridge and Mill Ford. Additionally, efforts are being made to enhance specialist provision in mainstream schools and expand the offerings in both specialist units and schools.
Hope for the Future
In the midst of these challenges, Russell and his family continue to hold out hope for a brighter future for Harper. They have chosen to send her to Tops Efford, a nursery that specializes in supporting children with additional needs. Tops Day Nurseries takes pride in its commitment to supporting children with Special Educational Needs (SEN). In each of their settings, they have a dedicated SENCO representative – Special Educational Needs Coordinator. This role is crucial for early years settings in facilitating early identification and intervention for children with special educational needs and serves as a valuable point of contact for parents with concerns about their child’s development.
The SENCO plays a pivotal role in ensuring that all practitioners within the nursery understand their responsibilities towards children with SEN and the nursery’s approach to identifying and addressing the needs outlined in the SEND Code of Practice. They offer guidance and support to their colleagues, maintain open communication with parents to integrate their insights into the child’s care, and collaborate with external professionals or agencies when necessary. For pre-school children, the SENCO also ensures a seamless transition and plans for their progression to school.
Tops Day Nurseries is committed to providing a supportive and inclusive environment where children with SEN can thrive. If you have any questions or require additional information, please feel free to contact your nursery manager. To learn more about Tops Efford and find your local nursery, visit their website here. The determination and resilience of parents like Russell, as well as the commitment of Plymouth City Council and Tops Day Nurseries, serve as a beacon of hope for a more inclusive and supportive educational landscape for all children, regardless of their unique needs.