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(UK) W. London: Autism school needs more $$$ for "rising costs"

May 27, 2022, Schools Week: Councils commit extra cash to keep special school trust afloat
Councils have been forced to find more cash to keep a special school trust afloat, after it claimed insufficient funding had left it paying wages from its reserves.

The Queensmill Trust, which runs two schools in west London, is now fighting not only for its financial survival but to keep its flagship school after receiving a government warning notice last week.

Experts and school leaders said it highlighted the wider financial challenges for special schools, including a reliance on local authority goodwill to pass on extra government cash.

Yet a shortage of places means that councils themselves are also heavily reliant on special schools to avoid paying for more costly private provision.

The government has threatened to rebroker the trust’s flagship Queensmill School, an all-through school for pupils with autism, if it cannot show sufficient improvement capacity….

But the potential further upheaval comes less than a year after the government allowed the over-subscribed, previously “outstanding” school to set up an academy trust and open a second school.

It also comes after the trust warned that its precarious finances could undermine its work, urging councils to step in.

Special school trust reserves used on rising costs

Queensmill’s 2020-21 accounts reveal that it had reserves of just £4,625. Auditors highlighted trustees’ acknowledgement that “there may be material uncertainties that may cast significant doubt on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern”.

The trustees claim reserves have been eroded by council top-up funds failing to increase for seven years. They have used them to fund rising pay, pension and pupil costs.

They say that, without extra top-ups, “it will be very difficult for the academy trust to maintain a balanced budget, manage its cashflow and deliver the excellent service that they currently provide”.

Councils provide top-up funding to cover extra costs beyond the £10,000 place funding that special schools are allocated by central government. It is understood that most councils agreed to increase Queensmill’s funding.

Camden, which funds fewer than 10% of its pupils, hiked top-up fees by 11.6 per cent to £19,189 per pupil, as requested by the trust in January. A spokesperson said Queensmill had not previously asked for extra funds.

A spokesperson for Hammersmith and Fulham said it had given Queensmill an additional £745,000 since last year, when it agreed to fund 50 extra places and enhanced provision.

But it is understood that the council, which funds almost two-thirds of pupils, has so far not agreed to raise top-up funding levels specifically....

Investigation reveals shortage of state places

A recent Schools Week investigation highlighted the shortage of state-sector special school places with more than half of settings taking more pupils than commissioned.

Warren Carratt, chief executive of Nexus Multi-Academy Trust, which includes nine special schools in Rotherham, said he was “absolutely not surprised” to see such financial challenges.

He said it was “typical” of councils not to have increased top-up funding for special schools for many years, while per-pupil place funding provided by central government had also stagnated for years…..

Government officials highlighted a £1 billion [$1.3B] increase in high needs funding in 2022-23 and £2.6 billion [$3.3B] planned SEND capital funding.


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