Calderdale school places crisis: 52 Calderdale children with complex needs left without specialist school place this September

The number of Calderdale children with complex needs who can not be offered a specialist school place this year has been revealed.
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Out of the 73 youngsters in the borough with Education and Health Care Plans (ECHPs) requesting specialist school places, just 21 were offered those placements, leaving 52 in mainstream school provision.

As reported by the Courier, this includes children like Siddal mum Jade Ditchfield’s four-year-old twins, Harper and Poppy, who have a catalogue of health issues and complex needs.

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These include severe developmental delays, with Harper identified as having a learning age of 18 months and Poppy of between 12 and 18 months.

Coun Amanda Parsons-Hulse raised the issue at a Calderdale Council meetingCoun Amanda Parsons-Hulse raised the issue at a Calderdale Council meeting
Coun Amanda Parsons-Hulse raised the issue at a Calderdale Council meeting

Poppy is autistic and non-verbal, and both require one-to-one support. She is also a sensory seeker and has an extreme food restriction which means her diet consists of a certain brand of crackers, a particular brand of crisps and medicated milk.

Speaking to the Courier last month when she found out her daughters had not been offered specialist school places, Jade said: "I know my girls won't cope in a mainstream school.

"It would traumatise them and me."

Speaking at a recent council meeting, Coun Amada Parsons-Hulse (Lib Dem, Warley) wanted to know why, with special school places very oversubscribed, rising demand was not planned for sooner.

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Calderdale Council cabinet member for Children and Young People’s Services, Coun Adam Wilkinson, said the pandemic had changed things in a way that could not have been foreseen.

Coun Parsons-Hulse said five years ago there were just 24 children in Calderdale with ECHPs who required new specialist school placements – but in the current year there were 73.

Out of the 73, just 21 were offered specialist school placements for this September.

“Many parents are left very worried about their child’s education and care,” she said.

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Coun Wilkinson said before the Covid pandemic, the number of ECHPs was relatively stable at around 200 per year.

“No one could have known the devastating impact that Covid has had on our children’s mental health and the huge rise in special educational needs,” he said.

In 2023, the council received 536 requests for plans – an increase of more than 50 per cent – and the situation was reflected across the country with around three quarters of councils having “black holes” in their special needs and disabilities (SEND) funding, said Coun Wilkinson.

He said in total, 2,329 Calderdale children have ECHPs, with the majority taught in mainstream schools which had additional support provided to them as they learned alongside their peers.

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But it was acknowledged some children needed special school placements, in the borough’s “outstanding” special primary, secondary and sixth form schooling.

Calderdale was disappointed not to get funding from Government for a new free special school but there was capital to increase places, with plans to “substantially expand” capacity developed in conjunction with Calderdale’s SEND strategic board, which had SEND family representation, soon to be considered by Cabinet, said Coun Wilkinson.

A rally is being held on Saturday, March 2 at Halifax Town Hall from 1pm until 3pm calling for action to boost Calderdale’s special schools.

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