Children with special needs in Cambridgeshire may lose transport for after-school clubs

Jonathan Lewis, service director for education in Peterborough and CambridgeshireJonathan Lewis, service director for education in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire
Jonathan Lewis, service director for education in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire
Children with special educational needs in Cambridgeshire may lose their transport for after-school clubs as the county council looks to make savings.

Cambridgeshire County Council currently offers after-school transport for special schools, in addition to its requirements to provide transport for the beginning and end of the school day. Five schools currently use the service.

The council is facing an overspend in its high needs education funding, and its annual budget more generally.

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In a paper put to its children and young people committee, the council said its offer of after-school transport for the five schools is a “discretionary spend” and it does not provide or fund similar arrangements for other special schools or those attending mainstream schools who have additional needs.

The council does not currently provide after school transport for those pupils on education, health and care plans (EHCPs) where the child has special education needs but does not attend a special school.

“There is clearly, therefore, a question of equality of opportunity with regard to the current arrangements, and the differential treatment of children and young people with EHCPs depending upon which school they attend,” the council’s report on the proposal says.

The council’s director for education, Jonathan Lewis, told the committee the budget pressures mean there will have to be “difficult decisions”.

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“Given the context we’re working in, given the fact the offer is not universal across all children who are in special schools or in mainstream schools, we are still presenting this as the inevitability of the financial challenges that we face and the need to re-configure some of our services,” he said.

The council has been funding the cost of the after-school transport service since 2011, but the price is rising at a time when the council is already overspending its government grant for high needs education.

The county council said it expects to spend £106,310 on providing transport to the after-school clubs run by five of Cambridgeshire’s Area Special Schools in 2019/20. The  after-school transport service currently supports 80 pupils at an average annual cost of £1,328.

The council says current forecasts show the Home to School Transport Special Budget will overspend by around £700,000 at the end of the financial year. And the council’s wider high needs education block spending is heading for a forecast £16 million deficit by the end of this financial year.

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The children and young people committee voted unanimously to progress to a consultation for parents.

The consultation is scheduled to run from February 3 to March 27, and the children and young people committee is scheduled to take the final decision in April.

The five schools which could be affected are Castle in Cambridge, Granta in Linton, Highfields Academy in Ely, Samuel Pepys in St Neots and Spring Common Academy in Huntingdon.

The council said the consultation would include questions on alternative ways to fund and deliver the service.

If agreed, the change would be implemented from September 1, the start of the new school year.

Ben Hatton, Local Democracy Reporting Service