Kent Council Council’s public consultation on the redesignation of special schools

A male PE teacher is pictured smiling outdoors, alongside two students, a boy and a girl.

Dear parents and colleagues 

RE: Kent Council Council’s public consultation on the redesignation of special schools. 

In March 2019, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, as part of their joint area local SEND inspection, concluded that Kent County Council (KCC) had “significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice”. As a consequence, KCC was required to submit a written statement of action to Ofsted. Inspectors returned in November 2022 and determined that, “The area had not made progress in addressing any of the significant weaknesses”. 

Meanwhile, 23 out of 24 special schools across the County are judged “Good” or “Outstanding” by Ofsted. This includes Milestone Academy and Snowfields Academy, run by Leigh Academies Trust (LAT), which are judged “Outstanding” in all categories. 

Since March 2023, KCC has been subject to one of the government’s SEN “Safety Valve agreements. This requires the County Council to “control and reduce its SEN deficit” which stood at £140m at the point that the agreement was signed between KCC and the Department for Education. 

KCC has recently begun a consultation which it believes will address the significant issues above. LAT believes that if KCC presses ahead with the proposals set out in its consultation, the effect will be damaging for the special school sector, including both Milestone and Snowfields Academies. We are taking the unusual step of writing to you directly to explain the nature of our concerns about KCC’s plans and to provide you with more details. This will allow you to have an impact on the consultation outcome and an early insight into what KCC is planning to do. 

We would encourage you to take part in the consultation which can be found below and which closes on Wednesday 31st July 2024. 

Parents/carers and members of the public are encouraged to visit KCC’s public consultation webpage to book a place on one of the forthcoming online engagement events taking place as follows: 

  • 26th June: 11:00am – 12:30pm 
  • 10th July: 4:00pm – 5:30pm 
  • 16th July: 5:00pm – 6:30pm 
  • 22nd July: 5:30pm – 7:00pm

Once you have considered the consultation information, you could write to your current/prospective Member of Parliament and/or County Councillor. If you feel strongly, we would encourage you to write and express your opinions directly to Cllr Rory Love, KCC Cabinet Member for Education and Skills ( and Cllr Mark Dance, Chairman of KCC’s Children’s, Young People and Education Cabinet Committee (

What is KCC proposing, and why? 

KCC’s proposals for special schools are far-reaching and will impact mainstream schools too. The Council claims that there is currently an “over-reliance” on special school places in Kent. It proposes to redesignate some of the County’s 24 special schools, but in reality all will be affected. As a consequence admissions arrangements will be rewritten to reduce the numbers of pupils eligible for a special school place to only those with the most “complex needs”. 

From 2026, when the changes take effect, it will be more difficult to achieve a place in a special school in Kent; a much higher proportion of pupils who might previously have been eligible for a special school place will be sent to a mainstream school. These changes will have the most impact initially on “Communication and Interaction” special schools, such as Snowfields. 

Why do we believe this will be damaging? 

Consultation with special school heads so far has been superficial. Kent Special Educational Needs Trust (KSENT), which represents all special school heads in Kent, has written to the Council to express its opposition to these proposals. Together, we have shared a number of concerns with officers and politicians already which include: 

  • If special school cohorts change substantially in future to just those with the most “complex needs”, during the transition phase it will have a serious impact on our ability to meet the needs of some existing pupils. Whilst KCC has stated that no pupils in a special school will lose their place as a consequence of these proposals, it has also stated that the “suitability of school placements will be reviewed and considered by the annual review cycle”. 
  • KCC officers have been unable to explain where else in the Country this new set of arrangements works well in a context similar to Kent. The lack of any compelling examples has damaged confidence that the proposed changes will work well here. 
  • The Council hopes to save considerable expenditure on travel costs for pupils with special educational needs if these plans go ahead. However, nowhere have these cost savings been quantified. 
  • The proposed changes will require fundamental adjustments to the curriculum, staffing, training, resources and capital infrastructure for several special schools across Kent to meet the needs of a changing intake of pupils. No analysis has so far been undertaken that we are aware of about how much this will cost. No guarantees have been given by the Council about how these changes will be funded for existing special schools or who will carry out the work. 
  • These proposals assume that all pupils working at broadly “age-related expectations” should attend and can be successful in a mainstream school, regardless of their other diagnoses. This is not the case. Many pupils join a special school because they have failed a mainstream place. In future, this type of transfer from the mainstream to the special school sector for such pupils will become almost impossible. This means that no pupils able to sit a GCSE examination will be able to attend a special school, which is potentially discriminatory. 
  • Special schools have received no information about how they will be funded once the proposals are implemented from 2026.
  • The plans envisage many more pupils who would previously have attended a special school transferring to or continuing in mainstream school from 2026. The proposals contain no financial commitment to help mainstream schools to meet the needs of these pupils in future who would previously have attended a special school. 
  • KCC’s proposals are partly motivated by reducing dependence on the private sector for special school places and thereby reducing costs. However, the plans set out in the proposals could have the opposite effect. If access to maintained special schools is restricted after 2026, more parents are likely to request a place at a private provision which could well increase costs for the Council. 
  • KCC claims that maintaining the status quo will hinder educational outcomes for pupils. This is very difficult to argue when 96% of Kent’s special schools under the existing model were judged “Good” or “Outstanding” by Ofsted at their last inspection. 

We hope this letter has given you further insights into KCC’s plans for special schools and we encourage you to take part in this consultation. We will obviously keep you updated over the coming months as the situation develops. 

Yours faithfully, 

Simon Beamish | Chief Executive