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Warning over special education funding

County councils say they are having to shift “unsustainable” amounts of money towards supporting children with special educational needs.

In total, 21 councils have overspent on their high-needs block over the past two years, which is a central government grant to support children with special educational needs.

A total of 22 counties project a further overspend of 5.1% in 2018/19, which would total £175m between those authorities from the period 2016-2019 to meet their statutory duties.

Many counties have asked their local schools forum or the government if they can move money earmarked for schools to provide special educational services for children.

Councils have legal obligations to provide services for children with special education needs

Eight out of the 22 councils have requested to transfer money so far, ahead of the 2018-19 school year, according to the County Councils Network (CCN).

The CCN has written to the Education Secretary Damian Hinds, highlighting that this is neither a desirable nor sustainable position – and have called for an urgent meeting.

“There is a growing concern from county leaders that overspends on special educational needs will soon become unsustainable, said CCN spokesman for education and children’s services Ian Hudspeth,

“Over the past three years alone, our overspends have increased by 63% and are only projected to increase with demand.

“It is regrettable that councils are only able to properly provide support to children with special educational needs by instead using funding intended for other pupils.

“Quite simply, there needs to be more money in the totality of the system.”

Research compiled by the CCN shows that high-needs block overspends are worsening as demand rises – going from 3.7% in 2016/17 to 4.5% in 2017/18.

In total, 14% of county children have special education needs or an education and health plan.

Hampshire County Council has the highest projected overspend out of the councils who responded to the survey, projecting to spend £25m in the period 2016-19.

Kent County Council is expected to spend £23.6m over the same timeframe, whilst Surrey County Council projects at least £15m overspend at least.

Counties already receive significantly less per pupil in schools funding – 43% less than councils in inner London, according to CCN figures.

The network says an already-shallow pool of funding is being re-routed elsewhere so councils can meet their statutory duties.

In 2016, the government injected £130m extra into the high needs block, and has pledged that no council will see a reduction in their total high needs block from 2017 to 2018.

But the CCN argues that pot of money is insufficient to meet demand.

It wants ministers to inject extra resource into the system this year, ahead of working on a long-term solution so service funding is sustainable for special educational needs services.

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