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(UK) Nearly 90 percent of special schools projected to have increasing budget deficits

May 26, 2023, Schools Week: ‘Enough is enough’: Special schools’ devastating budgets revealed
Nearly nine in ten special schools are forecasting a budget deficit over the next two years
Special schools are staring into budget holes as deep as £1.5 million [$1.9M], a Schools Week investigation has found, as heads say “enough is enough” and launch a national campaign against more cuts.

Nearly nine in ten special schools are forecasting a budget deficit over the next two years as unfunded pay rises, soaring energy costs and inflation take their toll.

A poll of 100 schools by the National Network of Specialist Provision (NNSP) has found that the average deficit across 80 schools in the red is forecast as £144,176 [$180K] next year, rising to £225,926 [$283K] across nearly 90 schools in 2024-25.

‘It’s not financial incompetency, it’s underfunding’

But after years of slashing provision “to the bone”, heads are now refusing to make more cuts – warning they would breach their legal duty to provide care for the country’s most vulnerable children.

While the government has claimed its recent teacher pay offer was fully funded, it has emerged that special schools were excluded from its calculations.

Special school heads are today launching a national campaign calling for urgent action from MPs, saying the “operational safety” of their schools is at “immediate risk”….


Special schools had to fund 5 per cent pay rises for teachers and up to 10 per cent pay rises for support staff. Their low pupil-to-teacher ratios and large numbers of support staff meant they were hit hard.

While the schools got an extra £325 million [$407M] to cover increased costs last year, Schools Week investigations revealed that some cash-strapped councils kept millions of pounds, rather than pass it on.

The £400 million extra funding for 2023-24 has been ring-fenced for special schools. But leaders say this is plugging budget holes and other additional costs caused by rising inflation.

The NNSP poll reached 10 per cent of the country’s 1,000 special schools, which educate about 140,000 youngsters. While the survey was self-selecting, special school leaders said they were surprised and horrified to see the devastating scale of financial ruin facing the sector.

The cumulative deficit of schools in the red will total £14 million[$19M] next year and £22 million [$28M] in 2024-25….

Figures are not published for class sizes in special schools because they are dictated more by pupil need. But the average number of pupils in special schools has risen every year from 108 in 2015-16, to 139 last year.

“I’ve heard people talking about 4.5 day weeks,” Douglas said. “That’s not a route we want to go down but we are worried – this is unchartered territory. This isn’t a financial competency issue, we are simply underfunded and our children and young people deserve better.”…

Some heads have been encouraged to set budgets based on unrealistic 2 per cent pay rises, A Schools Week investigation last year found special schools and alternative provision had nearly three times more teaching posts filled by temporary workers….

The high needs budget will be £10.1 billion [$13B] by 2023-24, fifty per cent more than four years ago.

They highlighted the long-awaited SEND reforms that would set national standards, including for funding bands and tariffs. But there will be no nationwide roll-out until a two-year trial ends.

Margaret Mulholland, a SEND specialist at the school leaders’ union ASCL, said if there was no additional funding the future survival of SEND infrastructure was at risk. “This is not a sustainable direction of travel.”


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