THERE is no doubt that local government is experiencing unprecedented pressures. The challenge for us is to continue to deliver excellent services for our county at a time when our funding fails to keep pace with demand.
According to Ofsted, North Yorkshire delivers outstanding services across the board for its children and young people. We put their interests first; meeting their needs in the best way possible. This is at the heart of every decision we take.
We are known nationally for our innovation and we are also known for ensuring that the outstanding policy and practice we put in place is sustainable. With our constrained budgets this often involves making difficult decisions. It can also involve making the case for increased funding to Government.
We have made our case loud and clear for an urgent increase in funding for our high needs budget. While we welcome the recent Government announcement that there will be some additional funding, it goes nowhere near addressing the critical funding shortfall we face.
Indeed we have joined forces with Yorkshire and Humberside councils to call on the Chancellor and Education Secretary to ensure that a full funding increase for high needs children becomes a top priority.
Like us, our regional councils are experiencing significant and increasing demand on their special educational needs and disability budget. North Yorkshire alone faces a £5.5m high needs overspend in the current financial year and this will only increase in the future. Yorkshire and Humberside face an overspend this year of nearly £42.7m.
This crisis has developed because the Government introduced legislative reform in 2014 which supported children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities through new Education, Health and Care Plans, increasing the age range and demands on budgets, without increasing the finance available.
There has been a 46 per cent increase regionally in the number of such plans and the rate of increase shows no signs of slowing. While we welcome the reform we need it to be properly funded otherwise the system will buckle.
This is exacerbated by an archaic and unfair Government grant formula which underfunds rural areas like North Yorkshire with 50 per cent of our money allocated based on historic spending levels that do not reflect the additional demand facing schools or the local authority. Nevertheless we are confronting the challenge head on in an ambitious overhaul of our service.
In North Yorkshire we have created a strategic plan for our special needs children and young people which is ambitious in its intention to develop more local and inclusive support. We want to help children closer to their own communities or within their mainstream schools. This would serve our main purpose of improving the service while also managing costs.
We have now embarked on a series of consultations to help us deliver this plan.
Some of the proposals we are consulting on are difficult and require our services to change. This is the case for our pupil referral service and alternative provision for pupils who are permanently excluded.
We have completed a consultation on changing the shape of this alternative provision so that the focus is on inclusion and reducing the number of children being permanently excluded.
Permanent exclusions are rising significantly, despite our investment in the pupil referral service of over £4.7m each year. Evidence shows that children and young people who are permanently excluded suffer in terms of educational outcomes and life chances. So wherever possible we believe they should remain within mainstream education, in their local school with the right support and curriculum to meet their needs.
The high quality of our pupil referral service in North Yorkshire is not in question – this proposal is about putting children first by tackling the significant rise in exclusions.
Even without the need to make savings we would be proposing these changes. Alongside this, we are working hard to increase special school places across the county. In 2017/18 capital funding supported an increase in places in five special schools including the The Dales School, The Forest School, Springhead School, Springwater School and The Woodlands Academy.
And we are about to consult on a further capital programme to enhance capacity including the development of a satellite of Mowbray School which will be located in the Ripon area.
We have also applied for a free special school in Selby where there is currently no specialist provision and are finalising plans for the further development of Forest Moor School.
We remain committed to doing the very best for every child and young person in North Yorkshire.
Stuart Carlton is director of North Yorkshire’s children and young people’s service.