‘Moral failure’ of education cuts for vulnerable children that hit harder in the north

GOVERNMENT spending on support for some of the region’s most vulnerable children and young people has failed to keep pace with rising demand, resulting in a reduction in funding available per Yorkshire pupil by 22 per cent over the last five years, according to a leading think-tank.

Cuts to education and local government budgets have led to “dramatic reductions” in support for children and young people with the most complex Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), with those in the North disproportionately affected, IPPR North said today.

Funds available per pupil have dropped 17 per cent across England since 2014/15, but some areas of the North have seen funding drop by as much as 24 per cent.

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Researchers say that the current funding settlement for schools and colleges is “nowhere near enough” to provide the support that children and young people with SEND need and deserve.

Since 2015, government funding through the ‘High Needs block’ has increased by 8 per cent in the north, but the number of those eligible for support have increased by 39 per cent. Funding per eligible child in Yorkshire fell from £22,696 in 2014/15, to £18,030 in 2018/19, IPPR North said.

In November, a coalition of authorities in Yorkshire wrote to the Education Secretary, warning councils face a collective shortfall of £42.7m in this area year alone. Even after £6.2m was set aside by the Department for Education (DfE) for the region’s special needs budgets in February, authorities warned this investment will not be sufficient, nor are there any guarantees over future need.

North Yorkshire County Council chief executive Richard Flinton said that between 2014/15 through to 2017/18, Yorkshire councils spent nearly £86m more than they received in funding, drew on their reserves by over £44m and top sliced nearly £42m from schools budgets.

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“The total overspend for Yorkshire and Humber since the Government’s SEND reforms has been £123 million,” he said. “North Yorkshire alone faces a £5.5m high needs overspend and this will only increase in the future.

“We are being forced to divert money urgently needed for other vital services. The Government’s one-off allocation of £350m this year and next, while welcome, is nothing more than a sticking plaster.”

The think-tank is calling on the Government to view support for children and young people with SEND as “an investment in our collective wellbeing and a just economy”.

Report author Jack Hunter said low employment rates among people with learning disabilities was a sign that we are “failing to prepare children and young people properly for adulthood”. Government statistics suggest that just six per cent of adults with learning disabilities known to social services are currently in employment.

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Mr Hunter said: “The Chancellor has declared austerity to be ‘over’, and yet the crisis in funding for schools and colleges is only getting worse. Cuts to overall education budgets have left many without the support they need, particularly in the North, and have driven up demand for intensive SEND provision. Despite emergency government funding announced in December, the current funding settlement is nowhere near enough.

“This is a moral failure but it is also a failure to recognise the economic benefits of upfront investment in young people’s futures.”

The DfE were approached for comment.

Meanwhile, the DfE has been criticised for failing to lobby for additional school funding with the same zeal as health ministers championing the NHS.

Members of the Education Select Committee said allocating relatively small pots of money to different projects was not as effective as developing a five or 10-year national funding strategy.