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(UK) Somerset: Special needs numbers growing rapidly; cost: $83M

Mar 29, 2021, Somerset Live: Somerset teachers clash with county council over special needs funding as trust hits 'rock bottom' https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/somerset-news/somerset-teachers-clash-county-council-5233933

(SW England) Somerset headteachers have clashed with the county council over possible cuts to special needs provision in schools. The council has been exploring ways to fund special needs provision through schools' individual budgets, to make up for a shortfall in central government funding. Heads of secondary schools across the county have written to the council, claiming it is impossible to find £2.4M [$3.3M U.S.] in savings without making redundancies, and stating their trust in the council is "at rock bottom"…. The dispute centres on the "high needs element" of the dedicated schools grant (DSG) - money from central government which the council spends on pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The amount that Somerset receives from the government is not enough to cover the cost of all SEND pupils and facilities - with schools being asked to make up the difference through savings in other parts of their budgets…. 65 A letter detailing teachers' grievances was sent to the council's chief executive Pat Flaherty by the Somerset Association of Secondary Heads (SASH). The letter was jointly signed by SASH chairman Peter Elliot and executive officer Mark Woodlock, as well as Mark Griffin who chairs the Somerset Schools Forum. The letter stated that the relationship between schools and the council's leadership "has deteriorated and is now causing grave concern" to parents, pupils and staff…. • These £2.4M savings are impossible to achieve without significant staff redundancies - something which the council has denied • In light of the short notice given, many schools and PRUs have been unable to plan their budgets for the next 12 months…. "Mr Wooster fails to acknowledge how saving £2.4M without jobs losses is irreconcilable, given most schools spend in the region of 85 per cent of their income on staffing…. "Removing or reducing this preventative, partnership work from the PRUs will simply increase the number of students permanently excluded and therefore create a greater budget and social issues further down the line…. He commented: "This letter shows a total breakdown of good relations between senior school staff and the county council. "The heads place blame squarely at the door of Julian Wooster, Somerset’s director of children's services, who was recently given a second job by the DfE - chairing Northamptonshire Children’s Trust. "Today (March 26) I have written to education secretary Gavin Williamson asking him to intervene. It is unacceptable for our key educationalists to be ignored for so long by an overpaid council overlord." Somerset County Council said the issues raised were part of "a long-running debate" surrounding school funding, and said it was happy to engage with headteachers to find a solution…. "As SASH correctly point out in their letter, in addition to the £340M mainstream school funding, there is a £60M [$83M] high needs element of the schools grant which supports the education of our most vulnerable children…. "We recognise that the current level of this grant from government is not sufficient to meet all the needs in Somerset. "However the proportion of Somerset children needing support from this grant continues to grow rapidly, and we are asking schools to look at ways they can support more children with SEND in their schools, so that this grant can go to those most in need." The council also stated that it had "complete confidence" in Mr Wooster and said it was investing more in schools and children's services as part of its budget approved in February. The spokesman added: "It is disappointing that we appear to be criticised at a time we are investing £1.7M [$2.3M], on top of additional government funding of £7M [$10M] , into this budget by picking up the costs of specialist education advisers and investing £46M [$63M] in building new special school places. "One point we are happy to comment on publicly is our complete confidence in Julian Wooster as our director of children’s services…. A letter detailing teachers' grievances was sent to the council's chief executive Pat Flaherty by the Somerset Association of Secondary Heads (SASH)….. The letter stated that the relationship between schools and the council's leadership "has deteriorated and is now causing grave concern" to parents, pupils and staff…. The Bridgwater and West Somerset MP has written to education secretary Gavin Williamson MP, forwarding on the SASH letter and calling for the Department for Education (DfE) to intervene in the matter. He commented: "This letter shows a total breakdown of good relations between senior school staff and the county council…. "Today (March 26) I have written to education secretary Gavin Williamson asking him to intervene. It is unacceptable for our key educationalists to be ignored for so long by an overpaid council overlord." Somerset County Council said the issues raised were part of "a long-running debate" surrounding school funding, and said it was happy to engage with headteachers to find a solution….