(UK) Surrey: SPED: $109M overspend; DEMAND ON INCREASE

Dec 22, 2020, Planet Radio: Special educational needs overspend saddles Surrey with £80 million [$109M U. S.] deficit (SE England) The overspend for the 2020/21 year alone is forecast to be £31.4 million [$43M U.S.]. Surrey County Council expects to have accrued an £80.2 million deficit next year – rising to £104 million [$142M U.S.] the year after – due to overspending on special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). … The council hopes that this can be contained to £24m, but with demand for SEND services in Surrey currently growing by 11%, this is ambitious. It is not alone in facing a hefty deficit in this area. Of the 151 councils responsible for education in England, 132 overspent in SEND education last year, according to The Observer. Only nine did not record an overspend, while the remaining 10 had no available data. Julie Iles, Surrey County Council (SCC) cabinet member for all-age learning, said: “SEND funding is not working around the country; demand is increasing and it needs a systemic change…. A Department for Education publication in July said: “High needs funding is increasing by a further £730m, [$1B U.S.] or 10%, in 2021-22. This vital extra resource will help local authorities to manage their cost pressures in this area.” This only equates to an extra £15m for Surrey. Last year there was a combined funding gap of £643m across English councils’ high needs blocks, the portion of the Department for Education grant that is assigned to fund help with SEND such as autism. Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Funding hasn’t kept pace with the increase in demand, resulting in many councils running significant deficits on their high needs blocks. “We are concerned councils will not be able to meet their statutory duties to support children with SEND unless additional money is made available.” Why does Surrey have so many pupils with Education, Health and Care plans? Surrey has a relatively high number of children with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), which identify what additional support is needed – 10,644 as of November. In 2019/20, SCC overspent £48.6m on the high needs block, although this was partly mitigated by raiding other parts of the schools grant – but this is no longer permitted by the government. Surrey’s high needs block shortfall is higher than average; it makes up 7.6% of England’s total, despite the council being just 0.76% of the total number of councils that overspent in this area. Cllr Iles said: “There’s a number of contributing factors for why we have a large instance of EHCPs – including but not limited to inconsistent practice in the past and a high level of parent expectation in thinking a diagnosis would provide a panacea, schools believing an EHCP was needed to be able to support inclusivity and insufficient use of early interventions at early years stage. “About one third of diagnoses in Surrey have Autistic Spectrum Disorder as the main presentation of SEN and we have a large number of intelligent parents, which may be linked – we’re doing some work with South Bank University to understand that some more.” Surrey County Council proposes withdrawing additional funding for special educational needs… Lib Dem spokesperson Richard Wilson said: “The annual spending on additional SEN funding in Surrey is currently just over £1m – a tiny amount compared with the council’s overall spending. “By trying to balance their budget on the backs of those who are most vulnerable but least able to speak up for themselves, SCC are risking the futures of children who should be their top priority.” Cllr Iles said rather than being an attempt at saving – £1m is 0.6% of the £175m high needs block anticipated for 2021/22 – it is an attempt to ‘update an outdated formula to make sure funding goes to where it is needed’. The council is concerned how many schools receive the additional funding despite having a budget surplus. They think the extra money available might even be an incentive to apply for EHCPs where they may not be needed. The consultation document reads: “There are three primary schools for which additional SEN funding is equivalent to more than 5% of the budget share. “There have been concerns that the current basis of distribution provides an incentive to some schools to apply for EHCPs where they may not be necessary or appropriate, and that it does not target the schools with the highest needs or benefit the most inclusive schools.”… It is asking the education secretary for permission to spend more of its schools budget on SEN. Currently the proportion is limited. Since April this year, councils are not allowed to top up their high needs block by dipping into any other pot of money, so they must find savings. The council has appealed to the education secretary to permit them to transfer 0.5% of the general schools part of the grant (£3.4m) next year. The proposed transfer was rejected by the Schools Forum, so now SCC is asking Gavin Williamson to overturn their decision. But the main plan to make savings is through a SEND transformation. As part of this, SCC’s cabinet has committed £69 million of capital investment to deliver an additional 1,100 special school places – 213 in the academic year 2021-2022. It is hoped this will reduce day-to-day costs, firstly by being able to pay for fewer placements at more expensive independent schools, and secondly by avoiding transporting pupils outside of the county to go to school. SCC has also this year stopped providing free school transport for under-fives and over-16s, where it is not obliged by law to do so.

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