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(UK) Surrey: $131M special ed bailout; mainstream schools must become more inclusive

Mar 30, 2022, Surrey Live: Surrey to get £100m [$131M] special educational needs bailout and slammed for 'failure' https://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/surrey-100m-special-educational-needs-23531059

SE England Surrey County Council must in exchange reduce the push to move from mainstream to specialist schools Surrey County Council is to get a £100million government bailout in exchange for reforming its special educational needs provision. The council has overspent on its special educational needs and disabilities (Send) budget by a total of £118.4m [$155M] - higher than expected, with a £34.5 million [$45M] overspend in the year 2020/21 alone. The idea of the Department for Education’s (DfE) 'safety valve' bailout is to wipe out this enormous deficit by 2026. A council spokesperson said central government funding for children with additional needs had in recent years “not covered the costs the council incurs” and it was “hopeful” the agreement meant the budget provided would now be sufficient. As well as trying to reach a positive in-year balance within five years, one of the conditions of the money is that the authority must improve the skills and capacity of staff in mainstream schools to support children with Send. The DfE said this was to “reduce the escalation of need and push to move from mainstream to specialist provision". A principle set out in its Send green paper out today (March 29) is that mainstream schools need to become more inclusive. Councillor Jonathan Essex, who sits on Surrey's children select committee, said the need for a bailout shows "outsourcing is not the way to go". He said the council's deficit came about because the council did not provide maintained specialist places soon enough, instead having to fork out for more expensive private placements and the associated out of county transport. A council spokesperson attributed its deficit to the soaring demand, with around 11,000 Surrey children now having education, health and care plans. He said: “Recent deficits are a result of increases in the number of children and young people in need of additional support, as well as rising costs associated with these services which have not been matched by the grant received. This is not a sustainable way to continue funding these vital services.” Cllr Essex (Green, Redhill East) said: “It’s clearly a failure if you need to rely on a £100m bailout. What has led us to this? A failure to provide special needs places for special needs children in Surrey and having to rely on non-maintained independent schools for many years…. A county council spokesperson said the authority "already works extremely hard to get the best value for money" through "strengthening inclusion practice in schools and other settings" and "building new specialist facilities" - and the extra DfE funding would allow it to fully implement its existing plans. These involve a £79.6million [$105M] investment to create 1,500 specialist school places in Surrey by 2030. Nearly 290 of these have been delivered for the academic year 2021/22, compared to 74 the previous year. A specialist place in a maintained school is on average £30,000 cheaper than one in an independent school, so 1,500 places has the potential to save the council £45 million a year. Councillor Denise Turner-Stewart, cabinet member for education and learning, said: “I am delighted for all our children, young people and families and everyone we work closely with to deliver these services, that this funding has been announced.

Green Party Councillor Jonathan Essex says the bailout shows a need to insource services (Image: www.fionaessex.com)

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