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(UK) Devon: "Completely unsustainable" costs of SPED

Feb 3, 2024, N. Devon Today: Opinion: Our council wants to do what’s best for children

Devon in close discussions with the Department for Education to tackle children's budget deficit

SW England

By John Hart, leader of Devon County Council

The intentions were laudable. To bring together all the agencies responsible for the welfare of some of our most vulnerable children - those with special needs or disabilities or SEND.

For the first time, education, the NHS and social care were all jointly responsible for producing education, health and care plans detailing what help and support each child needed.

At the same time, they extended the age range for the young people we were responsible for from 16 or 18 to 25.

As I’ve written before, this was done without providing much of the extra money that was needed to look after the extra numbers of young people.

The consequence is that - across the country - top tier local councils like Devon are struggling with huge deficits on their SEND budgets.

The national education fair funding campaign f40, of which Devon is a leading member, estimates that nationally some £4.6billion [$5.8B] extra is required to provide all the help required.
In Devon, our cumulative deficit is likely to be £162million [$2.5M] by the end of this financial year.

Clearly this is completely unsustainable….

Locally we are in close discussions with the Department for Education on what's called their safety valve programme. This is a national scheme which is aimed at providing financial support to councils with SEND deficits.

In return, the DfE wants to see evidence from us about how we are containing costs and improving the service we are providing for our vulnerable children.

Potentially irreconcilable aims, you might think, particularly if I tell you that currently the 24-hour care, support and accommodation for one of our most vulnerable children is costing the equivalent of £281,704 [$356K] in a full year.

Obviously this is a child with extremely severe needs but there are around 9,000 children with Education, Health and Care Plans in Devon - a little under 10 per cent of all the school-aged children in the county….

So one of the fundamental planks of our plan is to reduce the use of costly independent provision by around a third in the next six years and that would equate to some 360 places.

We also want to see more children attending their local school with suitably qualified teachers and carers available to them.

And we are rapidly expanding the places we can offer in our own special schools. Significant investment by Devon and the DfE should see us able to expand our special schools by just under half and provide 525 extra places by 2025.

With these improvements, we can provide comparable education and care in our own schools but with the advantage of children being educated closer to home and at considerably less cost than the independent sector….


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