‘Labour’s tax plan for independent schools would have a hugely detrimental impact for us as a SEN school’

Posted on: 11 Apr 2023

Michelle Catterson, head of Moon Hall School, warns of the impact Labour's tax plan would have on specialist schools like hers, and explains why it is so crucial that they can continue to support children from far and wide.

Moon Hall is a specialist school providing a tailored education for those with a primary need of dyslexia. We also have a number of children who have co-occurring difficulties such as dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and ADHD.

Over 50% of our pupils have an Educational Health Care Plan and are funded by their local education authority (LEA), and we currently work with eight different local authorities.

In Year 3, all pupils transfer over to us from another school, therefore all pupils have experienced an alternative setting which most likely has not been able to meet their needs.

Working closely in partnership with our state school counterparts, as well as the local authority, plays a large role in ensuring a successful transition to Moon Hall. Many of our families have had a difficult journey; often their child’s needs are unmet in their previous setting, often the LEA does not agree the placement and sadly many of our pupils have experienced a protracted wait for their place at Moon Hall to be confirmed. The tribunal process and attending court to represent Moon Hall is sadly not an unfamiliar process for us. Evidencing that a specialist provision is in the best needs of the child is often the easier part of the process, the difficult part for families is navigating a system that is convoluted with stretched timelines and a plethora of daunting paperwork.

At Moon Hall we hold a wealth of knowledge and experience amongst our staff. Having been a state school governor myself for four years, I fully understand and sympathise with the pressure that schools are under due to lack of funding. I have met many, many state school heads fully committed to the cause of supporting their SEN learners who simply do not have the funds available to train staff, to organise continuing professional development (CPD) or to purchase the resources they need for their pupils.

Having a personal experience of this dilemma, we decided to run and host half-termly SENCo (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) forums here at Moon Hall. Previous forums have included supporting assistive technology in the classroom, behavioural optometry awareness, supporting sensory needs within the classroom, and meeting the needs of ADHD pupils.

Some of the SENCo forum sessions are delivered by our own in-house experts, others are delivered by visiting professionals who are part of our trusted network.

There is no cost to any SENCo who attends these forums, and we actively encourage attendance from both our state and independent school colleagues.

These forums are an opportunity to network, to share good practice and to deliver continual professional development. The feedback from these events is overwhelmingly positive and for our next planned forum we have a waiting list for attendees as we are at maximum capacity.

Moon Hall’s Assessment Centre

Our newly launched Assessment Centre has been a resounding success. I launched the centre due to hearing all too often from families the struggles they were having in securing much needed assessments for their child. Obtaining an assessment and then subsequent diagnosis is the first stage in securing the right support for the child. Without the diagnosis, the support may not be forthcoming, and the child continues to struggle without much needed intervention. The assessments are available to all families and not only those looking for a place at Moon Hall.

We have had families travelling to our centre from over two hours away simply because there is nothing available in their area for a long time. Most LEAs have a very long waiting list for specialist assessments. In Surrey alone it is a 12-month wait for an educational psychologist – at the moment, for our educational psychologist, parents will wait just two months.

The question of affordability

Often, affordability is the barrier for families in gaining the support they need, and sadly the gap widens further between those more vulnerable pupils and their peers. To help with this issue, parents who may struggle to pay for the assessment can apply to the school for a means-tested bursary. We believe strongly that financial affordability should not prevent any child from obtaining the support that they require.

Moon Hall school is relatively new in comparison to some independent schools as we were founded 33 years ago. We have 185 pupils at our beautiful grade II listed site and are therefore a relatively small school. Any surpluses we make are moderate and are invested back into the school. We do not have dividends, beneficiaries or indeed large donations. We rely on the income we receive from the LEAs and our privately funded pupils to continue the successful running of the school.

If the Labour policies regarding schools were to come into place it would have a hugely detrimental impact for our school. To lose our charitable status, when we provide for so many children locally and from neighbouring counties, would place a huge burden on our finances.

Moon Hall Schools Educational Trust was founded to provide an education for children with dyslexia and without the provision here at Moon Hall there is not a suitable alternative for our pupils. In order to ensure the longevity of our specialist provision, if losing our charitable status is enforced and we lose the reduction in business rates, the only way for our school to survive would be to pass this cost on. This means additional costs to over 100 pupils funded by their LEA which is entirely counterproductive as it would place more burden on the LEA’s SEN budgets in funding the places. This is not to mention the added burden to our privately funded pupils, whose parents make huge personal sacrifices in order to meet the cost of education here.

If we are to have a Labour government at the next election, I would urge these minsters to think carefully about schools like Moon Hall. To recognise the benefits we bring to the community and the positive impact we create with the support we are providing. There are many benefits to an independent education and many pupils flourish and thrive with the support and excellence it provides. For our pupils though, it is more than simply an added benefit – it is entirely a necessity that they receive our specialist provision and benefit from our support.

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About Michelle Catterson

Michelle Catterson has been the headteacher of Moon Hall School in Reigate, Surrey, for the last four years. Under her leadership the school numbers have grown to capacity, and the school has received a number of national awards for pupil personal development and best specialist provision.

Michelle is also chair of the Board for the British Dyslexia Association and a member of two All-Party Parliamentary Groups working alongside MPs and representatives from the House of Lords. Michelle is a strong advocate for education and particularly for those with SEN, ensuring that every child has access to the education they deserve.