September 26, 2008
Taxpayers’ Pounds 24k Bill for Private School Fees
By Moira Sharkey
AROUND pounds 24,000 of Cardiff taxpayers' money has been spent on sending five pupils to two private schools in South Wales.
Cardiff council has paid the annual fees for the five to attend Kings Monkton School in Cardiff or Wyclif Independent School in Caerphilly since 2004.
The places were funded out of the public purse because the pupils had special educational needs (SEN).
Both independent schools offer a mainstream education rather than specialist care but, like many state schools, cater for pupils with moderate or mild learning difficulties.
The issue has raised the question as to why the pupils with SEN could not be educated in the council's own schools instead of being sent to the private schools, which do not offer specialist care.
The figures were revealed following inquiries made by Councillor Jayne Cowan. The Rhiwbina councillor said she felt it unacceptable the taxpayer was picking up the bill for children to attend a mainstream private school.
In total, the council has paid more than pounds 15,000 to Kings Monkton, in Roath, and more than pounds 8,700 to Wyclif, which is a Christian school, since 2004.
The pupils involved have a statement of special needs and, according to the council, could not be catered for in the council's own schools but it did not specify why these private mainstream schools were chosen.
It is understood the placements were agreed after consideration by the Care Advisory Panel, a multi-agency group.
The pupils were among a group of youngsters whose fees have been paid to attend privately-run schools.
The other schools on the list include highly specialist residential or day schools such as NCH Headlands School in Penarth or Ty Orbis in Brecon, which cater for children who are severely autistic.
Coun Cowan said: "Nobody would ever want to deny the best for a child with special educational needs.
"However, I do not understand how the council can justify spending taxpayers' money on offering a place for a child at a private school which is not a specialist school.
"Many children with moderate learning difficulties such as dyslexia are in the mainstream system and getting the support they need.
"In these cases I cannot see why a place at one of our excellent state schools cannot be offered if the children can attend mainstream schools."
In total, it is understood the council funds 191 pupils, many who are severely disabled, to attend specialist schools or residential homes which are not run by the local authority at a cost of pounds 3.7m per year.
Wyclif Independent School confirmed it does cater for pupils with mild learning difficulties but does not cater for children with physical disabilities.
Kings Monkton School said it provides specialist provision for a small number of pupils with special educational needs on behalf of Cardiff council, which couldn't be met in state schools.
Lesley Moore, director of schools for CfBT Education Trust, of which Kings Monkton is a part, said: "Cardiff council believes the education we provide at Kings Monkton School and the resulting academic achievements of our pupils is the most appropriate education for a small number of exceptionally able students with a statement of special educational needs."
A council spokeswoman said it was inappropriate to comment on the placements of vulnerable children.
CHILDREN WHO NEED EXTRA HELP
SPECIAL educational needs refers in law to children who have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn or access education than children of the same age.
Help will usually be provided in mainstream schools with the help of outside specialists. However, in some cases, children will need extra help. If this is the case, a local education authority can carry out an assessment to determine the needs of the individual child.
The Government website Direct Gov says once a local authority has carried out an assessment, it can decide to record the information it has in a statement of special educational needs. This statement describes a child's SEN and the special help they should receive. The local authority usually makes a statement if it decides that this help cannot be provided from within a child's school. The local authority must review each child's statement at least once a year.
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