‘Devastating’ cuts hit spe­cial ed­u­ca­tional needs

The Observer - - Front Page - Chaminda Jayanetti & Michael Sav­age

A cri­sis in fund­ing for chil­dren with spe­cial ed­u­ca­tional needs is plung­ing coun­cils across the coun­try deeper into the red and forc­ing par­ents into lengthy le­gal bat­tles to se­cure sup­port, ac­cord­ing to an Ob­server in­ves­ti­ga­tion that re­veals a sys­tem at break­ing point.

Coun­cil over­spend­ing on chil­dren’s spe­cial ed­u­ca­tional needs and dis­abil­i­ties (SEND) has tre­bled in just three years and is con­tin­u­ing to in­crease, with coun­cils hav­ing to raid hun­dreds of mil­lions from their over­all schools bud­get to cope. The Ob­server has iden­ti­fied 40 coun­cils that have ei­ther cut spe­cial needs fund­ing this year, are con­sid­er­ing mak­ing cuts or are raid­ing other ed­u­ca­tion bud­gets to cope next year.

Data from free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quests and coun­cil re­ports shows that the com­bined over­spend on “high needs” ed­u­ca­tion bud­gets among coun­cils in Eng­land soared from £61m in 2015-16 to £195m in 2017-18. It is al­ready ex­pected to hit £200m this year. The fig­ures cover 117 of Eng­land’s 152 coun­cils, mean­ing the true fig­ures will be higher.

It comes with le­gal ac­tion be­ing threat­ened across Eng­land against coun­cils con­sid­er­ing cuts to SEND fund­ing, which sup­ports chil­dren with con­di­tions such as autism, at­ten­tion deficit hy­per­ac­tiv­ity dis­or­der and phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties. Cases

have al­ready been launched in Lon­don and Sur­rey af­ter a suc­cess­ful chal­lenge to pro­posed cuts in Bris­tol. Cam­paigns are also be­ing planned in Portsmouth and York­shire, while a case is be­ing drawn up against cen­tral govern­ment for fail­ing to prop­erly fund the sys­tem.

By the end of this fi­nan­cial year, coun­cils will have raided nearly £315m from main­stream schools’ bud­gets since 2015 in or­der to plug gaps in spe­cial needs fund­ing. How­ever, re­cent rule changes have cut their flex­i­bil­ity to do so.

Min­is­ters have hinted that a cash in­jec­tion may be needed. Nad­him Za­hawi, the chil­dren’s min­is­ter, said the govern­ment recog­nised “that lo­cal au­thor­i­ties are fac­ing cost pres­sures on high needs” and that over­all fund­ing was be­ing kept un­der re­view.

At­tempts by strug­gling coun­cils to turn down re­quests for sup­port are reg­u­larly be­ing over­turned. Al­most nine in 10 cases taken to a tri­bunal find in favour of par­ents.

The cri­sis will be de­bated at a con­fer­ence of ed­u­ca­tion and coun­cil fig­ures this week. An­ntoinette Bram­ble, chair of the Lo­cal Govern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion’s chil­dren and young peo­ple board, said the new fig­ures “em­pha­sise the sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial chal­lenges coun­cils are fac­ing”.

“We urge the govern­ment to ad­dress this in the lo­cal govern­ment fi­nance set­tle­ment next month,” she said. “Un­less coun­cils are given the fund­ing they need, they may not be able to meet their statu­tory du­ties, and chil­dren with high needs or dis­abil­i­ties could miss out.”

Robert Hal­fon, Tory chair of the Com­mons ed­u­ca­tion com­mit­tee, said: “Par­ents have told our in­quiry that they are sim­ply not get­ting the sup­port that their chil­dren need … Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have a duty to pro­vide sup­port – and they need to be fi­nan­cially sup­ported to be able to meet this duty.”

An­gela Rayner, the shadow ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary, said there were now “devastating cuts” be­ing im­posed on both schools and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. “It has brought ser­vices for chil­dren with spe­cial ed­u­ca­tional needs to a dan­ger­ous tip­ping point,” she said. “De­spite the prime min­is­ter’s prom­ises, it is clear that aus­ter­ity is not over for our most vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren.”

The cri­sis stems from ris­ing de­mand for spe­cial needs places that has not been matched by fund­ing. Many coun­cils blame a 2014 re­form that extended their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for spe­cial needs chil­dren with­out pro­vid­ing suf­fi­cient re­sources.

Anal­y­sis by the Ob­server found that four of the five coun­cils with the largest fore­cast over­spends this year are coun­ties, with Hamp­shire top of the list. It is con­sid­er­ing re­duc­ing top-up fund­ing for spe­cial needs stu­dents and raid­ing £3.7m from main­stream schools fund­ing – with the schools’ agree­ment – in or­der to tackle its ex­pected £10.5m over­spend.

A coun­cil spokesper­son at­trib­uted the over­spend to a rise in the num­ber of pupils with spe­cial needs: “The fund­ing has in­creased year on year, but not suf­fi­ciently to meet de­mand.”

Other coun­cils have seen their fi­nances worsen. South­wark’s high needs over­spend has more than quadru­pled since 2015, while Lan­cashire has gone from a £5.6m un­der­spend in 2015-16 to an £8.5m over­spend this year. South­wark coun­cil­lor Jas­mine Ali said the coun­cil would “not turn our backs on those who need our sup­port but un­for­tu­nately the fund­ing we re­ceive doesn’t come close to pay­ing for the sup­port that is needed”.

Za­hawi said: “In 2018-19 coun­cils will re­ceive £6bn of fund­ing specif­i­cally for chil­dren with com­plex spe­cial ed­u­ca­tional needs and dis­abil­i­ties, up from £5bn in 2013.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.