Words by Erdington Local editorial team
As children return to classrooms across the country, many with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are forced to stay learning from home. Limited placements, underfunding, and cuts to travel support make it more difficult for SEND children to access to school-based education.
Erdington has a strong portfolio of SEND education, with children referred to special schools in the constituency from across the wider city. But it’s still not enough, and Erdington’s SEND educators continue to face challenges whilst delivering a nationally recognised high standard of education.
With local schools achieving impressive GCSE and A-level results this year, and more ‘Good’ and ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rated academies than ever before, the educational future is looking brighter for pupils in Erdington, Kingstanding, and Castle Vale.
The upheaval of the pandemic is also becoming a distant memory for pupils and staff, with this year seeing the first post lockdown results to rely on exam results and coursework instead of predicted grades from teachers.
However, parents and carers of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have a very different story to tell.
With a shortage of SEND places in Birmingham, families with children who live with a wide range of disabilities cannot find a suitable school for their child to attend. And those lucky enough to have found the right placement now face their free school transport being axed due to budget cuts at Birmingham City Council.
Teacher, parent of a child with autism, and founder of SEND National Crisis Birmingham, Kate Taylor, laid bare the crisis to Erdington Local. She told: “Right now there are hundreds of children in Birmingham, including Erdington and Kingstanding, who will be sitting at home as children return to school for the start of term. Parents of SEND children face a massive battle to get their child the proper education they need and deserve.
Kate believes a continual lack of investment for SEND children is the key to the problem. She continued: “My son is 21 and what our experience was compared to parents starting out in 2023 with a SEND child is totally different. I could go to my local Sure Start Centre, which were a great help in all different ways from early diagnosis to finding support from other parents; I knew I was not alone trying to bring up a child with very challenging needs.”
She added: “Whereas attitudes and awareness of disabilities and mental health has improved massively, the services on offer have disappeared or are now private.
“So, withdrawing transport for them and offering a bus pass when these children would find it impossible to navigate their way to school on two different buses adds even more children sitting at home.
“There has been a massive increase in home schooling; but this is not a choice, this is enforced because there is not enough provision in North Birmingham through dedicated SEND schools and mainstream schools with the ability to accommodate SEND children.”
However, Erdington historically has some of the best SEND school provision in the country, and currently hosts the highest percentage of SEND schools of any constituency in Birmingham. There are four secondary special schools in Erdington: Oscott Manor School, Queensbury School, The Pines Special School, and Wilson Stuart School.
There is also the Dovedale Centre, which offers an 81 placement provision for pupils with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC), and Hive Collage, which has 110 places for students aged between 19-25.
And in 2024 a new free school will be opened in Kingstanding with provision for 120 students, aged between 14-19, with both ASC and social, emotional, and mental health (SEMH) issues.
Wilson Stuart School can trace its history back to 1902 when it opened as Dean Street Cripple School. In 1907 the school moved to George Street West, where it remained for the next 49 years, and it has been at its purpose-built Perry Common Road premises since 1956 – now catering for 270 pupils aged 2-19 years. Lauded as one of the best SEND schools in the country, Wilson Stuart has been rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted in its last six inspections.
The school became part of the Education Impact Academy Trust (EIAT) academy group, established in March 2012, alongside Hive Collage and Handsworth’s Mayfield School. EIAT now includes the Wood End Road based Queensbury School, adopting the Gravelly Hill secondary from the Local Authority in 2020 after it received an ‘Inadequate’ Ofsted rating and faced closure.
Wilson Stuart Executive Head Teacher, Simon Harris, explains: “Erdington is an incredibly successful place for providing high quality education for children with SEND, but the reality is that we’re doing that despite the funding we receive – and that becomes increasingly difficult because all the time you’re trying to squeeze everything out of those last pennies.”
“At Wilson Stuart our challenges are ramped up by a disproportionate amount because we’re dealing with pretty much the most complex children, physically and medically, in the city. And to provide a high-quality education we’ve had to set a really high bar.
“Our staff work incredibly hard and are incredibly passionate about what they do, and that passion and enthusiasm exudes through everyone who works here. And we support people to take risks, educationally, to try things and push the boundaries”
He added: “If you ask me why Wilson Stuart is so successful it’s because we try things, and if they work then great and we continue doing them – but if they don’t work, there’s not a blame culture and we just move on. And that creates a culture where you’re constantly getting fresh ideas and new ways of doing things, and really enthused staff who can see the great results we get for our students.”
Since being part of EIAT, and through the work of its current senior leadership team and staff, standards have also improved at Queensbury School, which also can trace its history back over 120 years. Furthermore, Queensbury is walking into the new academic year with a brand new £5 million sixth form facility on Station Road, Erdington, call New Horizons.
Bushra Adnan, Head of Post 16 at Queensbury, told Erdington Local: “We are excited to be opening the doors to New Horizons, our new sixth form provision for students aged 16-19 which is located on Station Road.
“Students will benefit from a building which has been taken back to first fix, and adapted with extensions and redesigning to offer a provision with all the facilities young people need to prepare for adulthood. There are 11 classrooms, which includes a dual-purpose common room, it has a calm room, mentors room, hall, dual purpose cooking room, and canteen.”
She added: “Students will also benefit from a prime location, being a stone’s throw from Erdington High Street, Erdington Railway Station, and many other local businesses and amenities. This is an exciting time for all stakeholders at Queensbury School and Sixth Form.”
However, parents and carers of SEND children are now dealing with a transport bombshell which could add to the numbers being home schooled.
Birmingham City Council (BCC) has informed families of SEND children the free minibus and taxi rides previously provided by the Local Authority are coming to an end, after an overspend of £18 million in last year’s school transport budget. Children will now be given a personal travel budget, which will mean many parents will have to choose between work and taking their children to school.
Then On Tuesday 5 September, Birmingham City Council issued a Section 114 notice, stopping any ‘new spending’ as they face a projected deficit of £87m and potentially up to £760m in new claims over unequal pay. And despite soft reassurances being made that education in the city won’t suffer, concerns are mounting.
Wilson Stuart Head teacher, Simon Harris, continued: “Wilson Stuart is bigger than it’s ever been now, with 270 places this year, but we are still turning away referrals because we don’t have the space. It’s important to recognise the Local Authority have supported us by funding an additional building, but there needs to be some intervention from Government in terms of pay increases, and that those are funded properly in the SEND sector with its higher staffing ratios.
“What we don’t want, and where some special schools go wrong, is it becoming just about keeping the children safe and being present. Being present isn’t being included and being included is about high-quality education, and you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the resources – both human and facilities.
“I think we (SEND educators) are always the afterthought, we’re the bottom of the pile in the thought process… and normally it takes someone having to bang a drum to show that with the running costs for special schools the money being put on the table isn’t going to cover the things we need to do to keep offering an outstanding education.
“It’s going to be tough. But in a way that’s the rallying cry – education, be it in Erdington or Birmingham, needs fiercely committed people who don’t back down, work incredibly hard, are passionate about the children. It’s always needed that, people who won’t just shout it but will actually do it.”
For more on Education Impact Academy Trust (EIAT) visit www.educationimpact.org.uk
For more on SEND National Crisis visit www.facebook.com/SENDNationalCrisis