Gloucestershire: Education leaders call for more funding for special needs schools

Young child raising her hand.
The high needs funding system supports children with special education needs and disabilities. Credit: PA images

Education leaders in Gloucestershire say the county does not have enough money to run its schools.

Gloucestershire Schools Forum, which advises Gloucestershire County Council on school funding decisions, is calling for a two per cent increase to top-up funding for high needs education.

The high needs funding system supports teaching for pupils and students with special educational needs and disabilities from their early years to 25.

In 2020/21 the county council set a deficit budget of £5,449,200, improving on this position by £330,000 in the year leading to a final overspend of £5,119,200.

And now the council is proposing a high needs deficit of £3,570,000 for the current financial year.

And to help achieve that they are suggesting that top-up funding remains frozen at the current levels.

There are fears that many children who should be in special education schools are unable to get place because there are none available.

But Becky Martin, chair of governors at Bettridge School, said the situation was desperate and special schools cannot continue with the extra demands with no increase in funding.

“I can categorically tell you. I’m also a parent of two profoundly disabled children in the special school system and this is not my plan,” she said.

“Top-up funding and base funding has remained static for several years.

“We all appreciate you are brilliant Phil and you are trying to get your deficit down. But this is grossly unfair on the special schools.

“The special schools just cannot continue to put up salaries of teachers and all the things we have to do to increase our pupil support and just having the same money.

“I would almost beg the forum to consider just having the same increase as everything else.

“In terms of the funding coming to Gloucestershire, maybe we could think of a larger plan of going to the Government and the Department for Education (DfE) and saying we don’t have enough money in our county to run our schools.

“Surely, that must be the way we need to go if we cannot afford to just in line with inflation pay the special schools their base and top-up funding.

The freeze on top-up funding recommendation was overwhelmingly rejected by the schools forum.

Sands Academy Trust chief executive officer Lyn Dance said schools were being asked to cope with much more complex children without an increase in funding.

“It seems morally wrong to me,” she said.

“There’s a big number of children who need a special school place and there aren’t any available.

“So those mainstream schools are dealing with children who really should be in the special schools and they are not getting that extra support that they deserve and need.”

Education strategy and development head Philip Haslet said the deficit was a situation affecting many local authorities across the country.

“There isn’t a local authority who is saying we’ve solved this problem,” he said.

“It’s a level of need issue and everyone is seeing a rise in level of need.

“You can see rising levels across the country in special educational needs.”

Children’s services director Chris Spencer said it was a tricky situation and they were not unsympathetic to the schools forum’s case.

He said the scenario was a consequence of a standoff between the DfE and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government about who owns the deficit.

“What the government have said they have given us a three-year holiday to sort this out,” he said.

“At the end of that three-year period, the debt will revert and become unreal.

“What they are allowing to do is exactly what people are suggesting and that is to kick the can down the road.

“We are in a reasonably comfortable position in comparison to other local authorities but we are carrying a big debt.”

The schools forum overwhelmingly rejected the recommendation for a freeze on top-up funding.

They recommend a two per cent increase for mainstream and special schools which would cost £523.478.

Credit: Carmelo Garcia Local Democracy Reporter

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