Warning over Yorkshire ‘underfunding’ for special needs children

Special needs budgets are "significantly" underfunded, councils warn
Special needs budgets are "significantly" underfunded, councils warn

Vulnerable young people are facing the impact of “significant” underfunding in special needs support, executives warn, as families face lengthy delays for crucial care plans.

In some parts of the region, The Yorkshire Post reveals, nearly 80 per cent of education, health and care plans for special needs children have been delayed beyond deadline limits.

Read more: Yorkshire families’ pain over year-long special needs delays

As families today share their personal stories of the impact on the most vulnerable, executives at some of the region’s biggest authorities acknowledge ongoing delays are “unacceptable”.

Urgent investment is needed in the upcoming spending review to meet rising demand, councils argue, to ensure they can meet their statutory obligations.

“Supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities is one of the most important jobs that we do but the cost pressures are very grave,” warned County Coun Patrick Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s executive member for education. “For this reason we continue to call on the Government to fully fund the high needs budget and have written to our MPs asking for their support.”

Education, health and care (EHC) plans, which outline what support a child is legally entitled to, are a fundamental aspect of ensuring support in schools for young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). But across the region, analysis reveals, 40 per cent of families face delays, a figure doubled in some areas as councils struggle to meet rising demand.

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Since changes to the law in 2014, increasing bodies’ responsibility to include young people up to the age of 25, there has been a huge rise in the number seeking support. But, say local councils, there has been no additional funding to meet this need.

A coalition of authorities in Yorkshire wrote to the Education Secretary in November, warning councils face a collective shortfall of £42.7m in this area year alone. The system “will buckle”, North Yorkshire leader Carl Les warned, while Leeds Council leader Judith Blake said some of the nation’s most vulnerable have been dealt a “poor hand”. Now, after £6.2m was this week set aside by the DfE for the region’s special needs budgets, authorities warn this investment will not be sufficient, nor are there any guarantees over future need.

“This continues to impact our most vulnerable children as we work hard to provide the best possible SEND provision we can under the funding pressures we are facing,” said Sheffield’s education executive Coun Jayne Dunn.

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The ambition for SEND children is exactly the same as for any other child – to “achieve well in education, and go on to live happy and fulfilled lives”, Minister for Children and Families Nadhim Zahawi said.

It was for this reason that EHC plans were introduced to provide individual support he said, before acknowledging council budget pressures.

He said: “That is why we have provided an extra £250m in high needs funding across this year and the next, on top of the increases we had already promised.”

The funds – £24.3m for Yorkshire and the Humber – will go “some way” to helping councils manage, he said.

“We are pleased to see that local authorities are improving the speed at which they are assessing SEND children, but where a local authority is performing significantly below the national average we have been working with them through our specialist team of SEND advisers to improve performance,” he added.

National data shows 64.9 per cent of EHC plans were issued within 20 weeks in 2017, up from 58.6 per cent in 2016.

The figures for 2018 are not due to be published until May this year.