IT has been another busy week, both locally here in Central Devon and up in Westminster.
On Friday, September 22, I was very proud to open The Promise School in Okehampton – a dedicated school for children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs.
Part of the Dartmoor Multi-Academy Trust, the school initially opened its doors in 2022 in temporary accommodation at Okehampton College and St James Church of England Primary School, but has now opened its fantastic purpose-built premises on East Street.
It will cater for children who struggle with mainstream education and will make a big difference to their learning and development.
Every child should be able to access a quality education that meets their needs and we are fortunate to have this facility here in our constituency.
After the visit to The Promise School I caught up with Okehampton’s Devon County Councillor Lois Samuel who has recently taken charge of a new cabinet post at County Hall as Lead Member for Children's Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and Inclusion Services.
Previously this was under the general umbrella of Children’s Services, but Council Leader John Hart introduced this new cabinet post to ensure services for children with special needs are given greater attention – a positive move.
A dedicated and highly capable councillor with a professional background in mental health, Lois will help to shape the strategic direction and discharge of services that support children with special educational needs.
Since 2016 there have been a consistent upward trend of more children being identified as having Special Educational Needs (SEN) and local authorities issuing more Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans for pupils who need more help than is available through SEN support.
Across the country, EHC plans have increased by 64 per cent since 2016 and nearly 1.2 million pupils are now recognised as needing SEN support.
In many ways this increase is welcome as more pupils will get the extra help they need. But the significant increase is also putting pressure on local authorities and schools.
Lois and I discussed a range of issues during our meeting, including the need for more funding, which the government recognises.
Last month it announced an additional £440 million for high needs funding for the 2024-25 academic year, bringing total funding to £10.5 billion.
This is an increase of more than 60 per cent since 2019-20. We are hopeful that a package of additional funding specifically for Devon will be agreed by the end of this year.
Among other local meetings last week was a discussion with Tanya Larsen, a Ukrainian constituent who has lived in our constituency in Silverton for many years, and Eugene Soloviov, a Ukrainian refugee who came to Devon after the war started through the government’s sponsorship scheme.
We met in Crediton and spoke about support for refugees in our constituency, particularly how we can help more to access the local jobs market.