King's Lynn man reveals his special needs son has had six different schools in West Norfolk after research shows SEND children have to travel for schooling
A man speaks about the difficulties of finding SEND schools in West Norfolk for his 15-year-old son.
Recent studies have revealed that SEND(special educational needs and disabilities) children in the West Norfolk area have been travelling as far as Devon for schooling.
New data has found that some 33 SEND pupils leave Norfolk and travel more than 20 miles to go to a school that can cater for their needs.
At least two of that number travel almost 300 miles from Downham Market to Devon.
Others travel to Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, Halesowen in the West Midlands and Frome in Somerset – with he furthest arrangements being residential and not requiring daily commuting.
Leon Smith, CEO of the Norfolk and Norwich SEND Association (Nansa), said his organisation was “not surprised” by the investigation and that families of children with SEND “face impossible challenges”.
But the county council insisted it was committed to delivering “the best possible education” to young people with SEND.
The data, sourced by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), shows how councils across England are continuing to grapple with a black hole in funding for the rising numbers of children who need extra help.
One family has spoken about their own difficulties in catering to their SEND relative's needs in the county. Although they haven't had to travel far outside of Norfolk, the family has struggled to find a permanent placement and the correct support. They say "Norfolk needs to pull it's finger out when it comes to SEND".
Shaun Gibbs, of Lynn, is a single parent to Demi-Lee Gibbs,17 and Kane Gibbs,15. The children sadly lost their mum at an early age a gap that Mr Gibbs, who is physically disabled, has tried to fill.
Kane has ADHD,autism and Diabetes and needs a cocktail of medication to get through the day.
He started his school career at a primary school in Downham over a decade ago, but was soon excluded for "bad" behaviour, something his father says is part of his complex condition.
Mr Gibbs said: "Norfolk needs to pull it's finger out when it comes to special needs schooling. My son has been to five different schools and he's struggled to settle. The move between each school is a lengthy process and we've had 10 to 15 different social workers. We've had one fantastic social worker and if it wasn't for her, Kane probably wouldn't have the support that he does now.
"What I've found with the schools is that they either don't meet his needs or end up getting closed down.
"We used to live in Downham and he went to Hillcrest Primary, but in the end he was expelled was for his bad behaviour, at the time, which was years ago they weren't equipped to deal with him."
A Hillcrest parent who has a daughter with special needs at the school has said: "I don't know about back then, but they've been very supportive of my daughter who has complex needs, luckily I haven't had to look elsewhere.
"I know people have struggled, as schools weren't as understanding of ADHD and autism as they are now. Those children were just described as 'naughty' several years ago."
Kane currently attends Cambian House in Lynn, where he's getting on "really well" for the first time in years.
Cambian House offers accommodation, so Kane spends his time away from home. In September he is set to move again to different school.
Prior to that Kane has travelled to Stoke Ferry for schooling and has stayed at an institution in Littleport for as little as a week before being moved on.
Mr Gibbs said: "It's ridiculous staying at a school for one week and then being moved on to another one.
"Because of Kane's autism he has specific needs and is prone to outbursts, which schools have found hard to deal with. Kane was lashing out, he couldn’t stay still and would throw chairs and tables,
"Since being at Cambian House he has come along beautifully and is doing really well. Kane is very bright and has a lot of interests such as maths and computing he is scoring level one and two in most of his subjects."
Kane suffers from sensory issues that relate to texture, which is common for those with autism. He can't wear socks with labels in them and before becoming a student at Cambian, wouldn't wear shirts with logos on them.
Mr Gibbs said: "For the first time Kane is actually wearing logos, which may not be a big deal to some, but is massive for him. I just wonder how well he would have progressed if he had the right support from the start."
TBIJ’s investigation has found the special needs deficit across England has reached at least £1.3bn — an increase of around £450m in the last year alone.
With a projected overall deficit of £51.8m – including a forecast increase of around £20m in the last year – Norfolk is among the worst affected authorities in England. Only Kent, Surrey, Devon and Hampshire have bigger deficits.
Nansa chief executive Mr Smith said the investigation’s findings: "Unfortunately highlight what we see on a daily basis; the demand for SEND provision in Norfolk far exceeds the support available”.
He continued: “Families of children with SEND face impossible challenges, whether that be transport, diagnosis, healthcare, education, employment, the list goes on.
“There are some exceptional examples of SEND provision across our county, but most must tackle increasingly difficult waiting lists.
“The pandemic and cost of living crisis have only exacerbated the barriers our community of SEND families face.”
Some 471 SEND children in Norfolk travel out of the county to go to school, but 438 of that number have a journey of less than 20 miles, suggesting that most of them go to schools in neighbouring Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.