County leaders warn on special educational needs overspends

14 May 18

County councils are dipping into generic schools grants to manage overspending on special needs education, an umbrella group has found.

In the last two years 21 county councils overspent on their high-needs block grant ­– central government funding designated for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, according to research by the County Councils Network. 

A total of 22 counties project further overspends of 5.1% in 2018-19, equivalent to £175m between those authorities from 2016 to 2019.

Of these council, the biggest over spender is Hampshire County Council, which is projecting a £25m overspend in the 2016-19 period.

Kent County Council is expecting a £23.6m overspend in the same period, while Surrey is forecasting an overspend of at least £15m.

To cover overspend in this area, counties have been asking the Department for Education or their local schools forum if they can use their generic schools grant.

Eight out of 22 councils have so far made such a request of the DfE ahead of the 2018-19 school year.           

In a joint letter to education secretary Damian Hinds, CCN chair Paul Carter and children’s services spokesman Ian Hudspeth said the situation was neither “desirable” nor “sustainable” and called for an urgent meeting with the minister to ensure the high-needs block grant is properly resourced.

Hudspeth said there needed to be more money in the whole education system.

“There is a growing concern from county leaders that overspends on special educational needs will soon become unsustainable – over the past three years alone, our overspends have increased by 63% and are only projected to increase with demand,” he said.

“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.”

Loic Menzies, director of education think-tank LKMco, warned that local authorities are “dangerously under-resourced” for special educational needs.

“Cuts in social care and other services are having a knock on effect in schools and this, combined with patchy implementation of reforms to the [special educational needs and disability] system mean that it is no surprise councils are scrambling to find cash to put fires out,” he said.

A DfE spokesperson said: “The high needs budget for pupils with special educational needs is £6bn this year – the highest on record. 

“Thanks to the additional £1.3bn funding announced last year, every local authority will see an increase in their high needs funding over the next two years.”

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