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(UK) 'DEEP CONCERNS' over high needs SPED budget; millions of £s in the red

Jan 21, 2022, Northamptonshire Telegraph: North Northants pupils forced into expensive out-of-county placements as special schools are full to bursting

E. Midlands

The north of the county's high needs budget has a deficit £2.3m [$3.1M] A funding squeeze and a lack of places for some of the north of the county's most vulnerable school pupils are causing significant budget pressures for education bosses. Because many of our special schools and mainstream units are running at, or over, capacity, children are having to be educated in out-of-county schools that have spaces, which come at an eye-watering top-up cost. There is an ongoing increase in the number of Education, Care and Health Plans (EHCPs) administered in the county and North Northants Council's education department is also having to deal with a £2.1m [$2.8M] hole in the special education budget inherited from Northamptonshire County Council - plus an overspend of £300,000 [$402K] and rising in this financial year. Now a special management plan will need to be drawn up so local education leaders can show the Government how they plan to get a handle on the finances. North Northants Council's Interim Head of Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Neil Goddard told the Schools Forum's monthly meeting yesterday (Thursday, January 20) that impacts from legislative change in 2014 were being felt in Northamptonshire and that many local authorities were "struggling to contain their expenditure within the available resources." "Our special schools are running at a very high level of capacity," he said. "Many actually are over capacity as tribunals are requiring them to take over their published number to admit (PAN). "There's lots of work going on at a local authority level with schools and there's more that needs to be done… to deal with those sufficiency levels." The government's Department for Education funds schools using its Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) which is split into four portions - one of those is known as the high needs block. The report to Schools Forum members said: "In recent years there has been considerable growth in pupils identified as having SEND and in those requiring an EHCP, pupils requiring alternative provision and pupils requiring specialist provision. This shows no signs of abating. "As a result, many local authorities have found that the high needs block has been insufficient to fully meet identified needs. "This has been exacerbated by the longer term implications of changing legislation which has, amongst other issues, increased the age range for which EHCPs are funded, from 18 to 25, and increased awareness from schools and parents that an EHCP can be a route to attracting additional resources. "Currently, there is year-on year growth in these areas and with this unstainable demand on the HNB." Mr Goddard said that there was a historic overspend of £2.115m brought forward from the former Northamptonshire County Council which disbanded in April 2021, and that there was already an added £300,000 [406,000] overspend for this financial year, which is expected to grow further. He said: "We're having to use high-cost out-of-county special school placements because our special schools are full and that's causing expenditure. There's ongoing growth in the number of EHCPs across the system. A High Needs Funding Panel that considered applications from schools for the allocation of additional cash to support them has not met for some time. The panel was intended to reduce the need for EHCPs and to support schools in being proactive in maintaining inclusion. Mr Goddard said that the aim was to re-start that panel, but that it would have to have a more focused remit. "Any further work that we do to allocate funds will increase that overspend which will then be rolled into next year," he said. This year's NNC budget for out-of-county placement top-ups was £7.2m [$9.8M], but projections show the actual cost may be as high as £9.3m [$12.6M] - a £2.1m [$2.8M] difference. Hatton Academies Trust chief executive Rob Hardcastle said that 86 per cent of the overspend was coming from these placements and asked whether it was being caused by capacity issues, or because we didn't have the specialisms needed in Northants. Mr Goddard said: "We are always going to need to use out-of-county specialist placements because we simply can't meet the needs of every child locally. "However, our special schools are full and as such in order to ensure school children are not left without a school place for longer than is absolutely necessary we have to use the higher cost ... placements more than we'd want to. "Clearly we'd want to educate all children as closely as possible and that's absolutely part of our approach to SEND but equally they need to have the placements. Educating them out of area is not the ideal outcome." He told members of the forum that increasing capacity in schools will take some time and that they needed to find a way to navigate the interim period. Jo Sanchez-Thompson, chief executive of the Learning for Life Education Trust, said that the pause in the high needs funding panel meant that 'water behind the dam was building up.' She added that there were many children who may have been been helped by high needs funding who did not have an EHCP. She said: "They are now sitting school thinking that the only way they are going to get any money is to look at whether these children can be put forward for an ECHP." She added that 'needs were piling up.'… Amid rising numbers of children who needed EHCPs, the committee heard there had been 'deep concerns' around high needs funding, which was introduced in 2017. The education sector told the committee that the funding levels were 'unsustainable' and had not kept pace with increasing demand. Dave Hill, Executive Director of Children, Families and Learning at Surrey Council, told the committee: "Unless we can address the issues about SEND funding, the whole system will implode at some point.” The recommended a review of the high needs funding formula based on a 'forward looking approach', based less on 'historical factors.' The formula was altered the following year but many local authorities believe it has not kept pace with the levels of need.

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