DEMAND is growing for special educational needs support in Cumbria, but places in specialist schools are not growing with it, councillors have heard.

At a presentation for county councillors on Wednesday, a special educational needs professional revealed that work is underway to meet the increasing demand in Cumbria.

It was revealed that last year, 8648 Cumbrian children were receiving some form of Specialist Educational Needs support, 26 per cent live in the most deprived areas nationally.

Carlisle and Barrow have the highest number of children with Specialist Educational Needs and Disability support and the most children with an EHCP live in Copeland and South Lakeland.

And demand is on the rise. Sally Senejko, senior manager of the SEND Improvement Programme, attended the meeting to tell councillors about the huge body of work to meet demand and increase support for young people with autism and other disabilities.

Ms Senejko said: "We've got a high number of children with autism in Cumbria and we've got an increasing number of children and young people with EHCPs for social, emotional mental health needs and we have seen that increase following the pandemic because of anxiety.

She mentioned the Inclusive Cumbria Strategy which worked to meet the needs of children with SEN in mainstream schools.

"Many children's needs are met and have been met in mainstream schools. We don't have as many special schools so we have a low number of children whose needs are met within special schools."

The number of people with special needs post-16 is higher because following reforms in 2014, councils' are also required to meet the needs of 19 to 25 year-olds.

"So there's a real increase in children and young people that we're responsible for and the provision doesn't meet the needs at the moment, so there's lots of work going on around increasing the provision available."

Ms Senejko said that there is a high demand for places in Cumbria's specialist schools.

"We are seeing parents requesting more special school places and we're working with our special school headteachers to look at other ways that we can increase provision, either on site or other ways."

A SEND inspection in March 2019 found that Cumbria had nine areas of "significant concern." The inspector said that there was "a lack of understanding of the needs of the SEND population" as well as "a lack of clear understand amongst leaders about strengths and weaknesses in their areas of responsibility."

Limited joint working, "lack of trust and faith from too many parents and carers" and limited involvement of the public were also raised as concerns.

Councillor Christine Bowditch said that the issues around SEN need to be addressed.

Cllr Bowditch said: "In my experience as champion for autism, 100 per cent of parents who contact me about their children's education, it is to say that they desperately want their child out of a mainstream school and into specialist provision where they will get what they consider to be a proper education.

"A child I know of has two full time teaching assistants with them the whole time because they cannot be with other children. They should be in a special school. My point is, there isn't enough special school provision."