County councils today warned that the cost of meeting special educational needs and disability (SEND) education since the system was reformed could “break” their budgets.
A sharp increase in the number of children with SEND needing education, health and care plans (EHCP) in the past five years since the reforms were introduced has left councils struggling to cope, says the County Councils Network.
In five years, the number of children needing EHCPs has risen by almost 50,000 (46 per cent) in the 36 councils represented by the network – but, it argues, this increased demand has not been funded.
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CCN found 27 councils have recorded a combined overspend of £123 million in 2018-19 on their high-needs block – a specific grant for children with SEND.
This comes on top of those councils already facing a cumulative funding gap of £21.5 billion over the next six years.
Councillor Carl Les, children’s services and education spokesperson for CCN, said that while the government’s reforms to SEND in 2014 were well-intentioned, the additional demand has created a “financial crisis” for some local authorities.
“Counties already face a funding gap of £21.5 billion over the next five years and if we continue to overspend at the level we have done it will break many of our budgets,” he said.
“As this huge increase in demand is unfunded, the cost burden has come from other service areas. Local authorities, already grappling with yearly cuts, have had to ask to shift funding from mainstream pupils, and reduce preventive services in the community – a short-term but necessary approach that will only store up problems for the future.
“With demand projected to rise for the foreseeable future, it is clear that councils will continue to overspend and the quality of service will be compromised.
“This is why we are urging the new government to urgently inject funding into SEND to help ease these pressures, and acknowledge that the extra demand over the last five years must be funded.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our ambition for children with SEND is the same as for every other child – to achieve well in education, find employment and go on to live happy and fulfilled lives. That is why this government is proud to have introduced the biggest SEND reforms in a generation, which includes extending EHCPs to the age of 25 so that those with the most complex needs can be supported for longer, where necessary.
“High needs funding for children and young people with the most complex SEND has also been increased, from £5 billion in 2013 to well over £6 billion this year. We also announced in December an additional £250 million up to 2020.
“We know that costs are rising in areas of the country, which is causing challenges for local authorities, and we are aware of the pressures on school budgets more generally, including the increasing costs of making provision for children with more complex needs. We are looking carefully at how much funding for education will be needed in future years, as we approach the next spending review.”