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Special needs children costing Rutland county dear

More funds are likely to be taken from the Rutland schools budget this year to pay for the specialist education of high needs pupils and the local education authority says it cautious of the Government’s recent promise of more funding.

Rutland County Council is predicting it will overspend its high needs budget by £711,000 this financial year to educate the growing number of children being taught in the county with specialist needs.

This means the high needs block will overspend by almost 20 per cent on its £3,825m 19/20 budget.

Rutland County Council (18846268)
Rutland County Council (18846268)

If this happens, the authority, which is already under the watchful eye of the Department for Education, will have to submit a recovery plan to government because it will overspend by £664,000 across its overall £29,475m schools budget. Any local education authority that overspends by more than 1 per cent of its total budget is required to put together a recovery plan.

In the report to be discussed by the county’s schools forum on Thursday (October 10) put the cost down to the increase in Educational Health Care Plans. These are legal documents which describe the extra support needed by a child with special needs.

It said: “There has been an increase in the number Educational Health Care Plans that have transferred into the county, with one case alone costing £62k. This has been the main reason for increase in forecast.

“At the end of the 2018/19 financial year Rutland fell short of being required to submit a formal recovery plan to the DfE, in part due to additional funding received from the DfE in year. However, current predicted expenditure in 2019/20 is likely to require a formal submission in 2020 and therefore there remains a need to have a recovery plan in place to prevent further pressure.”

The £711,000 predicted overspend from this year includes an overspend in high needs in the 18/19 financial year. Already this year £117,000 has been transferred out of the £23.435m general schools block, which pays for all the other primary and secondary schooling in the county.

And there is a proposal that the forum – which includes many of the county’s head teachers – will be asked to agree to transfer 0.5 percent of the overall schools budget for the 2020/21 year to top up the high needs for next year.

The authority has set up a number of projects to try and bring down its overall high needs spend.

This includes the nurture project, which involves early intervention with children with challenging behaviours, and also will see specialist teaching support across a cluster of schools.

It has also agreed in June this year to contract in a special educational needs consultancy to look at how the current system is delivering.

The schools forum report also looks at the impact the recent new funding proposals announced by government will have for Rutland.

It says: “Any notification of increased funding is always welcome (even if it does not compensate for below par funding over the last few years) but until we see individual allocations we remain cautious.

"In simple terms, a £2.6bn increase overall could equate to anything between £1.1m and £1.7m for Rutland across the total Dedicated Schools Grant . The method of distribution will of course be critical.

“The funding announcement should see each school receive an increase in excess of £100 per pupil against last year’s funding.

“The additional High Needs funding could translate into funding of between £200k and £450k for Rutland.

"This would go some way towards funding our deficit (this will depend on the 2019/20 out turn) and might allow for investment in initiatives that help affect the systems change we have been discussing.”

The Government has also announced recently a review into the special educational needs system.

Most local education authorities are currently transferring money out of their overall school budget to the high needs block to cope with increasing need and rising costs.

In a statement to the Mercury, Coun David Wilby, cabinet member for children’s services and education: “Rutland’s Dedicated Schools Grant is a finite amount of ring-fenced funding that comes directly from central government.

“Unsurprisingly, the cost of funding support for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is not fixed. This is a demand-led service where costs can and do change considerably depending on the specific needs of individual children and young people.

“If families with SEND requirements move to Rutland after budgets are fixed, or resident families need more help, we cannot refuse to support them and nor would we want to. We strive to give families the support they need regardless of government funding limits that we can’t control.

“This is an important issue but to single out SEND and the high needs block is misleading as it ignores the wider picture. The Department for Education assesses the Dedicated Schools Grant as whole, including SEND services. When you look at the Dedicated Schools Grant as a whole, as it should be viewed, Rutland is overspent by just 2.25 per cent.

"To put this in context, 122 local authorities (81.3 per cent) overspent their schools high-needs budgets in 2017-18, including 84 that overspent by 5 per cent or more. The National Audit Office has confirmed this is mainly due to an increase in the number of pupils attending special schools, which rose by more than 20 per cent between 2014 and 2018.”

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