Call for action on special educational needs crisis across Yorkshire

An appeal for urgent action over special educational needs has been issued to the Chancellor by authorities across Yorkshire, as it emerges they face a stark overspend of £42.7m this year alone.

Councils across Yorkshire have backed the call

The rare coalition, backed by local councils across the region, warns support systems are buckling for the most vulnerable, with funding being diverted from vital services and already struggling schools to deal with the crisis.

The region’s authorities, like many nationwide, say they have seen “unprecedented and increasing demand” on budgets for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), while resource has fallen steeply in time of austerity.

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County Coun Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, said spending in this area will become “totally unsustainable” unless there is an agreement in the spending review to fully fund special educational needs.

“The system will buckle,” he warned. “We are diverting money urgently needed for other vital services as well as seeking to move money from mainstream schools when they are already struggling with their budgets. This cannot go on.”

Detailing ‘spiralling’ overspends in supporting young people, the authorities reveal that in the four years since 2014, councils in the region collectively spent nearly £86m more than they received in funding.

There has been a 46 per cent increase regionally in the number of children and young people with Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs), in the wake of reforms in 2014 which widened the age range to which they apply.

There has been no rise in funding to meet this rise on demand, the councils say, and there is no sign of the pressure easing.

Unions have previously said the picture for schools supporting children with SEND is bleak, with headteachers warning that many are struggling to meet the needs of their most vulnerable students.

This year, the authorities have now revealed, the collective overspend for Yorkshire and the Humber has reached £42.7m, with decision makers having to rely on £32m from reserves as well as transferring over £10m from the budgets of already struggling schools.

Over recent years, the authorities add, £44m has been lost from reserves across Yorkshire to fund this, with £42m top-sliced from struggling schools.

Authority leaders from across the region are calling on both the Chancellor and the Education Secretary to ensure that a full funding increase becomes a top priority for the next spending review.

“The Government has dealt a poor hand to the some of the nation’s most vulnerable children and young people and we are now demanding they give this crisis their urgent attention,” said Coun Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council Leader.

“Supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities is one of the most important jobs that we do but the burden of this funding can no longer be placed on councils who have felt the full effect of austerity.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “There is more money going into schools than ever before, rising to a record £43.5bnby 2020 – 50 per cent more in real terms per pupil than in 2000.

“In Yorkshire and the Humber, schools have received £3.4bn in total cash funding this year, having received £3.3bn last year.

“‎But we do recognise there are pressures on high needs budgets due to increasing costs. To make sure children with special educational needs and disabilities achieve well in school, Yorkshire and the Humber will receive £500m in high needs funding in 2018-19.”