Fewer pupils with special needs will receive extra funding

 

By Leigh Boobyer – Local Democracy Reporter

Fewer pupils with special educational needs will receive extra money in schools after Gloucestershire’s education heads reluctantly agreed to county council proposals.

It’s because there are more children that require special educational needs funding and the council have to redistribute “underfunded” money from central government.

And the county’s school heads and governors also failed to approve Gloucestershire County Council’s plans to take money from main schools funding budget to plug a financial blackhole in the special needs fund.

The authority currently faces a £3.2million overspend in its high needs budget but is proposing to fill £1.7m of it with money from central government allocated for the main schools budget.

The council are currently considering writing to the Department for Education to ask if there are alternatives, but if the proposal goes through then it would effectively mean the funding per pupil will decrease.

The Schools Forum, made up of Gloucestershire’s education figures, voted by a majority of one to support proposals that would see the council give discretionary money of £6,000 each  to schools for fewer special needs pupils.

Meanwhile the Forum failed to approve transferring 0.25 per cent from the ‘Schools Block’ to the ‘High Needs’ Block, and the council will now have to decide whether to take the matter to the Education secretary Damian Hinds by November 30.

Even if the council do put an appeal in this can be withdrawn, but the deadline must be met.

The transfer would cut the minimum funding per pupil from £4,800 per pupil to £4,641, something which Stroud MP David Drew has branded a “sticking plaster over the crisis”.

For some of the larger schools in the county, that means a budget cut of almost of £200,000.

Cotswold School headteacher Willam Morgan said: “The biggest message we can send is to push it back to the government. They are putting us against each other.”

Over the last three years there has been an increase in children needing additional support in the county’s schools, which has resulted in an overspend of the high needs funding from government by £3m.

A decision will now made about whether to appeal to Mr Hinds and the feasibility of reducing the ‘School Block’ as an alternative.

Speaking after last Thursday’s meeting (November 15), Richard Boyles, cabinet member for children and young people at Gloucestershire County Council, said: “We know that our schools are under increasing financial pressure – and the county council has backed them in highlighting this to government and MPs.

“Despite an overall increase in funding, more children in Gloucestershire than ever before need intensive help and support at school which is has resulted in an overspend of the high needs specific block of the Dedicated Schools Grant by £3million. We will continue to work with the Schools Forum to make a decision on how to bridge this funding gap.”

WHAT DO GLOUCESTERSHIRE’S MPs SAY?

Reacting to the news, Labour MP for Stroud David Drew has requested a special adjournment debate in the House of Commons on the education funding in Gloucestershire.

He said: “Gloucestershire County Council is trying to ‘patch up’ the crisis in special needs funding by proposing taking money from schools which was supposed to be used for the education of children without SEND.

“Lack of adequate funds from central government, or a willingness to tackle the issue, has led to a shortfall in SEND funding and now a potential reduction in the resources available to other children.

“The number of children with high needs is increasing, but the government has failed to meet that cost, or even recognise the growing pressures on schools.”

“The transfer would be a ‘sticking plaster over the crisis in special education needs funding which makes a mockery of the Government’s pledge to introduce ‘fair funding’ and even to give schools ‘little extras’. There will be no ‘extras’ for Gloucestershire children.”

Conservative MP for Cheltenham Alex Chalk said: “I have been warning for some time, including raising it recently with Theresa May at PMQs, that we are witnessing an explosion in the number of children with statements of special educational needs and the complexity of their requirements.

“That’s why, despite a much-improved funding formula for Gloucestershire overall, the High Needs block is under pressure. I will continue to lobby hard at every opportunity for this crucial issue to be addressed in the Spending Review next year.”