Peterborough schools face ‘£5m black hole’ in special educational needs budgets

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Schools in Peterborough face a £5 million funding shortfall in their special educational needs budgets, according to the country’s largest education union.

The Government said it had increased funding since 2015 from £5 billion to £6.3 billion, following demonstrations by parents of children with special educational needs in May, including one in Bridge Street in Peterborough.

The protest over SEND funding and support in Bridge Street

The protest over SEND funding and support in Bridge Street

But the National Education Union says this does not take into account the increase in pupils that schools have to provide for, estimating they now face a funding shortfall of at least £1.2 billion.

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Children and young people aged up to 25 who are assessed as having special educational needs are given an Education, Health and Care plan by their local authority.

In January 2015, there were 1,407 youngsters in Peterborough with either an EHC plan or their predecessors, which were known as statements of special educational needs.

The budget for high needs pupils in 2015/16 stood at £28.8 million in today’s terms, adjusted for inflation – the equivalent of £20,597 per pupil.

In 2018/19, the budget had fallen to £28 million, but the number of pupils needing support had gone up by 22 per cent to 1,722.

The NEU estimates this meant a real-terms cut of £3,190 in per-pupil funding – the equivalent of a £5.1 million for the 2018/19 year.

Since then, the number of children with an EHC plan has increased by another 10 per cent, reaching 1,901 in January 2019.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “This is clearly a crisis with pupils and parents bearing the brunt of real-terms funding cuts and the wholly inadequate planning by government.

“Thousands of children and young people are missing out on the education they need and deserve, causing misery and worry among families struggling to get support for their children.”

The NEU says a lack of funding across the country is now leading to cuts in specialist provision, a loss of specialist support staff and increased waiting times for assessment.

When a parent asks the council to assess whether their child has additional needs it must carry out an assessment and draw up a plan within a maximum of 20 weeks. In Peterborough, 26 per cent of those referred in 2018 waited longer than this, although this was an improvement on 36 per cent the previous year.

The Local Government Association said councils were reaching the point where the money “is simply not there”, with special needs support at a tipping point.

Nadhim Zahawi, minister for children and families, said funding for high needs pupils was a priority and an extra £250 million of funding up to 2020 had recently been allocated.

He added: “At the same time the Education Secretary has been clear that we are working closely with the sector as we approach the spending review, and we have launched a call for evidence to make sure the funding system is getting money to the right places at the right time.”