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(UK) $13.2B for high needs budget; 60% higher than 2020

SW England

Special schools in Gloucestershire are facing a crisis of funding and places. Laurence Robertson, the Conservative MP for Tewkesbury spoke in Parliament on Thursday, January 11, about the challenges faced by special schools in his constituency and across Gloucestershire.

He praised the work of Alderman Knight School and the Milestone School, which provide care and education for children with special needs. He disclosed that his wife is a governor of Alderman Knight School, which caters for children with a range of difficulties, while Milestone School provides for children with more complex needs.

However, he also highlighted the problem of a lack of special school places in the county, which he said was estimated to be about 330 places short.

He said: “The problem is that because they have been given places on appeal, 100 children have had special school places awarded to them, but no places have yet been found for them. That is a very big difficulty that both the schools I mentioned have raised with me.

“Alderman Knight was built ten years ago for 120 pupils, and there are now 235 pupils on its roll. That puts a big strain on the school itself, and it also means that class sizes have increased. The problem with that for special schools is that as the class sizes get bigger, they tend to lose what makes them special, which is something they are very concerned about.

“Such schools are obviously very concerned about their budgets. As has been said, the formulas for calculating the cost of educating children in special schools is outdated and does not work, especially when children require a one-to-one situation. It simply does not enable the schools to provide that kind of care. The problem is that even if they could find extra teachers and even if they could recruit them, they could not actually afford to do so because of their budgets.”

He said that he was not asking for more money from the Treasury, but for a fairer distribution of the existing funds and a reassessment of the formula for calculating the cost of educating children with special needs.

He also called for a full assessment of the demand and supply of special school places ineach county or metropolitan area, and for the Government to come up with proposals to address any shortfall and added that the plans needed to be reassessed as the child progressed through schools, which often took too long.

He concluded: “We had something of a battle many years ago to save special school provision in Gloucestershire, and I am glad we did because such schools carry out the most fantastic work. However, we do need to reassess the situation, and we need to make sure that those schools can carry on serving what are very special children.”

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, David Johnston, said that the issues raised in the debate were very familiar to him, and that he had talked about parents having what they felt was a war of attrition with the system to get the support they needed for their children.

He explained: “I have talked about parents having what they feel is a war of attrition with the system to try to get the support they need for their children. That is a war that any parent would wage, but no parent should have to. We know the system is not delivering consistent support and outcomes and that there are significant financial pressures on it, despite considerable Government investment.”

He said that the Government had increased the higher needs budget and that in 2024-25, it would be £10.5 billion [$13.2B], which was 60% higher than the figure in 2020.

He said that the Government had two programmes supporting local authorities that faced financial pressure in their SEND system.

“The high needs budget has doubled since 2015, but even if a Government were able to triple or quadruple it, that would not by itself deliver the outcomes we all want to see,” he continued. “Parents and teachers know that and frequently say that the issue is not just about money. ”


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