The Department for Education has published Dame Christine Lenehan’s review of residential special schools and colleges for disabled children.
Here she explains what brought the review about, what it found and what needs to happen.
What prompted your review of residential special schools?
There were two main things that prompted my review. The first was Sir Martin Narey’s report on residential children’s homes, where he recommended that residential special schools warranted separate consideration.
Secondly, I have been looking at care for children in in-patient mental health units and I saw that some of these children were bouncing back and forth between in-patient care and residential special schools. There was an undercurrent of issues coming through from residential special schools that I thought should be improved and ministers agreed we needed a better understanding of the challenges children and young people in these schools.
What was the scope of the report?
I wanted to understand some basic information first: how many residential special schools and colleges there are and how many children are living within them.
But on top of understanding who these children are and where they are, more importantly I wanted to know what are the outcomes and experiences of these children and young people? What does life look like from a child’s point of view in residential education?
What did you find while conducting the review?
My review drew out findings from different perspectives. From the schools themselves, I learned that the quality of support they provide is extremely variable. There are schools doing excellent work but overall there is far too little focus on the educational outcomes of these children and young people.
Furthermore, I saw that these are some of the most vulnerable children in the country, they are caught in the middle of a complicated system and sometimes schools and local authorities don’t do enough to make it simpler for children and families to navigate through the interlocking services responsible for them.
I was also struck by the fact that many of the children and young people we spoke to felt it was they themselves who had failed in some way, but my Review shows it was all too often the system that failed them.
What would you like to see happen?
I’ve made recommendations for improvements across the system. For a start we want a system which enables children to go to schools in their local communities. It is important children don’t end up in residential special schools because the support in their local schools doesn’t work properly.
If children and young people do end up in residential special schools it is vital that we have clearer and more open processes for both families and children, so they can understand what is happening to them and why.
We also need clearer commissioning process for local authorities too. One professional I spoke to said ‘local authorities don’t commission residential schools, they shop for them’. This is not good enough and shows how these children can be undervalued. So one of the things I’m really pleased about is that the Government has agreed to set up a national leadership board to ensure the recommendations I have made are acted on quickly.