The Department for Education has approved plans for 500 new special school places in Wiltshire following a multi-million-pound agreement.

The five-year investment plan laid out by Wiltshire Council aims to support children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

This plan was drafted with schools, parents, carers and health professionals, and will see 500 new special school places created as well as an investment into more resource bases which provide SEND support in mainstream schools.

The investment is something that parents of SEND children have been desperately calling for as one Swindon mother previously told The Adver she had reached ‘rock-bottom’ trying to educate her children.

Mother-of-two, Rachael Edwards, was left with no choice but to send her neurodiverse son Mason to a mainstream school after she was told there were no places available at a specialist school - the effects were devastating.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Rachael Edwards was one of the hundreds of 'SEND child' parents in the South West who protested for change last year.Rachael Edwards was one of the hundreds of 'SEND child' parents in the South West who protested for change last year. (Image: SEND Reform England)

“The school tried their best to cater to Mason's needs and support us, but they just didn’t have the funding to meet his needs,” she said.

“He did year one for not even a couple of months, and his speech deteriorated. He became non-verbal, dropped two kilos of weight and was showing signs of depression. I’d have to carry him in screaming.”

Rachael's family is just one of hundreds across the UK that have experienced this struggle and Wiltshire Council now hopes that their multi-million-pound investment could make all the difference to families in Wiltshire.

The new plan was submitted as part of the government Safety Value Programme, which works with councils that have very high overspends in their High Needs Block budget.

Since 2018 the High Needs Block, which supports SEND children, has been under increasing pressure across councils in England.  

“We now have a clear way forward to do three things; secure long-term investment in SEND in Wiltshire, address the overspend issues in a managed way and create a long-term sustainable future," said Councillor Laura Mayes, Cabinet Member for Children's Services at Wiltshire Council.

"This approach is aligned with our Business Plan to help us create resilient communities where people are empowered.”

“I am so pleased the DfE has recognised and approved our plan," added Councillor Jane Davies, Cabinet Member for SEND.

"It was co-designed with schools, parents and carers, health and care professionals and most importantly with children.

"We know the next few years will be challenging as we work together on a new approach to SEND and it is important, we continue to work together so we can action our plan and provide sustainable SEND support and opportunities for every child to thrive.”