The SEND funding crisis has become so severe that it could bankrupt an entire local authority, a senior council figure has warned.
The warning comes as local authorities across the country are reporting gaping holes in their education budgets – driven by overspends in services for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
And, ahead of tomorrow's Budget, teaching unions, headteachers and thinktanks have been calling on the government to provide far more than the £780 million of SEND money promised by the government for 2020-21.
Ivan Ould, lead member for children and young people’s services at Leicestershire County Council, said his own council’s SEND deficit “could put the council in a bankruptcy situation”, according to minutes from a meeting held by the f40 group of the lowest funded local authorities for education.
Several other local authorities are reported to be in the same position.
Minutes from the 27 January meeting state: “IO said it was unclear at Leicestershire County Council how they were going to fund the current deficit and if it was allowed to continue it could put the council in a bankruptcy situation.
“He said the DfE had shown complete inaction during the past four years.”
The f40 meeting was attended by local authority and education leaders, as well as Tony McArdle, adviser to the Department for Education’s SEND review.
Attendees discussed pressures in the SEND system, and Mr McArdle said money was being wasted by schools and parents applying for education and health care plans (EHCPs) "when they were not justified by the need presented".
However, Mr Ould, who formerly chaired the f40 group, said that the "government needed to look at why the number of EHCPs had jumped so drastically since 2016", according to the minutes.
The minutes add: "He said parents were losing confidence in mainstream schools’ ability to educate children with SEND, so more and more were opting for specialist schools or home education."
They continue: "IO said it was unclear at Leicestershire County Council how they were going to fund the current deficit and if it was allowed to continue it could put the council in a bankruptcy situation. He said the DfE had shown complete inaction during the past four years."
Mr Ould, who is also a former special school headteacher, today told Tes that he stands by the comments he made at the meeting.
Leicestershire is predicting an £11 million funding gap in its SEND budget for 2020-21, as well as a £19 million cumulative deficit, council documents state.
The minutes also say that Devon County Council has a £21 million deficit for SEND, and that "a number" of other local authorities were in similar positions.
Also speaking at the f40 meeting was Emily Proffitt, headteacher of Tittensaw Primary School, in Stoke-on-Trent, who voiced concerns that pupils with SEND were not getting the support they needed and were seeing their progress fall as a result.
The minutes state: "EP said her concern was for the children who needed an EHCP and couldn’t get one. She said support staff were not always available to help them.
"As a headteacher, she said she had given much of her time recently to support a pupil with additional needs because he didn’t have an EHCP and there was no one else available.
"EP said there had been a decline in the progress of SEND children without EHCPs."
Leicestershire County Council was contacted for comment.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We are increasing high-needs funding for local authorities by £780 million next year, boosting the total budget for supporting those with the most complex needs to more than £7 billion in 2020-21.
“No child should be held back from reaching their potential. Our SEND review will look at how we can improve the support children and young people currently receive so the system works for everyone, in every part of the country.”