A lack of state-funded special school places is forcing councils to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on places in independent special schools.

Councils up to three times the number of SEN pupils to independent special schools last year, compared with six years ago, Schools Week reported exclusively.

Councils say a lack of funds for new state-funded special school places is leaving them with no other option, coupled with rising numbers of diagnoses in children.

A lack of special needs teachers exacerbates the situation, on top of a difficulty to recruit new teachers.

According to the workforce census, a higher proportion of teachers in special schools left their job last year (11.9 per cent last year) than in mainstream primary and secondary schools.

There were also more posts filled temporarily in the SEND, pupil referral unit and alternative provision sector (which the Department for Education categorises together) at 1.5 per cent, compared with 0.8 across the state-funded sector overall.

Schools Week’s analysis shows that a child’s private school place costs double that of a state-funded place.

If state-funded places are not available to meet a pupil’s needs as specified on their education, health and care plan (EHCP) or statement, then local authorities are required to fund places at a private special school.

Freedom of Information responses from 110 councils seen by Schools Week reveal the councils spent an average £52,000 per pupil on independent special school places for 2015-16.

This almost doubles the £10,000 to £30,000 per pupil annual cost of a SEND pupil attending a state-funded school place, as estimated by SEND consultant Barney Angliss and Laxmi Patel, senior associate solicitor and head of education at law firm Boyes Turner, though both stress costs can be more if a pupil’s needs are severe.

A rise in diagnoses of autism, social and emotional needs or severe physical and neurological needs, has placed increasing pressure on school places.