Councillors heard the number of children and young people with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) has risen by a fifth since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in line with the rate nationally.
Although Calderdale has a track record of inclusion, with a higher proportion of young people with the plans being educated in mainstream education than across the country, pressure on places could mean a new school is needed, the council’s Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Board heard.
Development of such a new “through school” – for primary and secondary age pupils – at North Halifax was part of education provision issues discussed by the council’s Cabinet in January.
Existing provision for Calderdale children and young people with complex SEND was predominantly through three maintained specialist provision schools and a number of children and young people with SEND attended independent specialist provision, some within the borough and some out of area, councillors heard.
Officers said the number of children and young people with plans had risen by 21 per cent in the past two years, reflecting the national picture.
Requests for assessments had increased from around 15 to 20 per month in early 2020, pre-pandemic, to around 25 to 30 per month in 2021-22.
But despite increasing specialist provision over recent years, there was pressure for places and additional capacity was needed.
Coun Brenda Monteith (Con, Brighouse) asked what the new school would offer and officers said with the increase in plans, pressure for places in existing provision had risen.
Coun Helen Rivron (Lab, Ovenden) was concerned about the increase in numbers of children being placed in specialist provision.
She was also unhappy about the prospect of another specialist school being provided rather than using mainstream schools.
“In the end, we are preparing people to live in the mainstream world,” she said.
But at the end of the day, if a strong enough case was presented, Coun Rivron said she would go along with it.
Officers said increased provision within mainstream schools was being looked and to an extent more pupils could be accommodated by curriculum and timetable planning – but this was limited by the teaching areas available.
There is currently no dedicated school in Calderdale which meets these particular type of needs, councillors were told.
Officers said as well as building capacity in mainstream schools, they were commissioning places with specialist providers and block purchasing placements with current providers who could meet social and emotional mental health needs.
Officers were being advised by the schools that a specialist environment was required – but there was no money to provide a specialist unit in every school, councillors heard.