By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter
More spaces for children with special needs are being created across Nottingham schools after the number of pupils needing support for conditions such as autism rose by more than 100 per cent.
Figures suggest there are more than 2,000 children and young people receiving support in the city.
The greatest need involves children living with Autism Spectrum
The number of local children diagnosed with ASD has increased by 103 per cent since 2017, from 317 children to 642 in 2022.
Similarly the number of children needing support for Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) increased by 146 per cent from 70 children to 172 children.
The rises have led Nottingham City Councillors to endorse a new strategy aimed at increasing specialist school places for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, known as SEND.
The Department for Education (DfE) recently announced funding for new spaces, and Nottingham City Council has been given £17.963m to cover a period between 2021 and 2024.
The council says while there has been “considerable growth” in the numbers of young people identified as having special educational needs, almost all current school spaces are full.
An extra 92 special school places have already been allocated to pupils with autism as their primary need over five years from 2017, as well as another 239 spaces at mainstream schools.
During a council Executive Board meeting on September 19, a new strategy was adopted to try to tackle increasing demand.
Cllr David Mellen (Lab), the leader of the council, said it would help stop children being shipped off “miles and miles away” for placements outside of the area.
“I think we have got a strong reputation in the city of being inclusive, not just for those children who might be described as having special educational needs or disabilities, but for those who don’t as well,” he said.
“All of our children need to learn and grow up alongside people with different abilities.”
A public consultation on the strategy took place between January and February this year.
Most respondents agreed with the council’s priorities, but some concerns were raised over children and young people “being left behind”.
One comment said: “There needs to be more than the proposed extra capacity and the time frame is not sufficient because children and young people are being left behind in the meantime so there needs to be an emergency short-term plan.”
Concern was also raised over the high number of pupils that are excluded from schools are due to a lack of adequate investment in appropriate support.
This is “also a reflection of how some schools discriminate and lack awareness of complex needs”, consultation documents say.
The council has proposed and endorsed the first phase of schemes, including the creation of 24 to 30 places at The Fernwood School and Nottingham Girls Academy.
Further schemes have been proposed to create specialist SEND provisions at Milford, Glade Hill and Rise Park primary schools.
These proposals would create between 12 to 18 extra places.
Finally, the last scheme proposes to increase special school provision at Rosehill School by 80 places.
A second phase, where more schemes will be proposed, is expected to begin in the Autumn this year and schools will be invited to express interest in funding for more spaces.
Catherine Underwood, the corporate director for services including adult social care and children’s services, added: “This is such an important piece of work that we are doing with our schools, and there is some really substantial investment.”