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(UK) Oxfordshire: 124% increase in 'high need block'; $151M deficit expected by 2025

Jan 18, 2023, Banbury Guardian: Council apply to trim Oxfordshire school pupil funding to push more money into special educational needs Oxfordshire County Council will apply to trim funding for every school pupil to push £2.38 million [$2.8M] into special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision.

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Ninety per cent of the county's schools that responded objected but Councillor Liz Brighouse OBE (Lab, Churchill & Lye Valley), who oversees children, education and young people’s services, insists the measures are necessary and will save money in the long term.

A significant portion of the funding councils get for schools comes from the age-weighted pupil unit (AWPU), the basic level of funding for each child.

The same councils also have to fund the requirements of those with SEND with many having to overspend to meet statutory obligations, although the extra costs are ring fenced as a bill that does not need to be paid until 2025.

Oxfordshire expects to overspend by £17.5 million [$21.6M] in the current financial year and build up a total deficit of £122 [$151M] million by 2025.

A recent council report showed it expects to spend £92 million [$114M] on SEND this financial year, £29 million [$36M] of which is expected to go to private providers, some of which are outside Oxfordshire.

Some of those specialist placements are necessary but a part of that cost is driven by the lack of placements in the county and parents who challenge the decisions of the council’s SEND professionals.

In a bid to plug that gap, the county will apply to take the maximum it is permitted to – 0.5 per cent – from its dedicated schools grant (DSG) for the financial year starting in April 2023, £2.38 million [$2.95M], which will be targeted at improving services and increasing the number of places, reducing the need for private providers.

It would mean a 0.72 per cent reduction in the AWPU of every pupil in Oxfordshire, which is around £25 per child per year in primary school, £35 for those in school years seven to nine and £40 for those in years 10 and 11.

The county requires permission from the secretary of state for education to implement the budget shift.

In backing the recommendation of council officers, Cllr Brighouse said “it will still be a pittance” when set against an anticipated £20 million [$24.7M] shortfall for SEND in 2023-24….

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Brighouse said: “As the number of children with special educational needs goes up, so the deficit goes up.

“There has been a 125 per cent uplift in the number of children we are funding through the high needs block and we have had an uplift in funding of around 49 per cent so it hasn’t met the needs – it hasn’t nationally and it hasn’t here, some local authorities have even bigger problems than we do.

“We feel if we can better fund our mainstream schools, more special schools in the county and units within our schools to support children with special educational needs, then that will be a better way to spend money and it will cost much less than out-of-county boarding….


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