Educational psychologists in Gateshead are “overwhelmed” as the number of children needing special educational help has risen by 117% in eight years.
There are 4,478 children in Gateshead with special educational needs or disabilities out of a total of 27,158. Of these children, 180 also have an Educational, Health and Care Plan.
These plans are for children and young people up to the age of 25. They are legal documents which explain the extra help they may require in schools and other settings. Often educational psychologists will conduct assessments to determine whether an EHCP is required.
Michael Arthur, the headteacher of Toner Avenue Primary School, said: “The 117% increase has placed a strain on SEND services, especially on educational psychologists. They are overwhelmed and with the number of new referrals for care plans they are spending more time assessing than they are working with children.”
Deborah Mason, service manager for SEND at Gateshead, said: “Yes we have some struggles, but in comparison to other local authorities we have been able to maintain and relatively healthy level of workforce.
“We had to wait for some people to complete their doctorate in educational psychology, so there has been a delay. We have also used assistant educational psychologists as a way to enhance the team and they have been very successful.
“Two are now an educational psychology degree course, so we have a rolling programme of staff coming in. There is an issue and we are trying to address that.”
Cllr Maria Hall said: “We have a Thrive Agenda in Gateshead and when we have the resources and areas with a high demand for them there is a tendency to look at that negatively.
“Gateshead always had a higher level of assessments needed. To me, that is a sign of success because we are identifying children who need help and it is an investment.
“By the time they reach adulthood they can thrive and become independent, instead of moving from one service to the next on a perpetual cycle of a lifetime on additional services.”
The top five areas of SEND in Gateshead are:
- Speech, language and communication needs – 1103
- Moderate learning difficulties – 839
- Social, emotional and mental health – 776
- Autism spectrum – 744
- Specific learning difficulty – 369