County council “can’t carry on like this” amid concern over funding for special needs education

Shire Hall, in Cambridge, home of the county council. Picture: STRUTT & PARKER

Shire Hall, in Cambridge, home of the county council. Picture: STRUTT & PARKER - Credit: Archant

There are stark warnings the county council “can’t carry on like this” as it is revealed funding for special needs education and children with disabilities is falling behind demand.

SEND (special educational needs and disability), covers a wide range of special educational provision for children and young people. There is help for language skills, autism, sensory impairments, or long-term medical conditions.

In Cambridgeshire the over-spend for SEND this year is expected to be £8.9million.

This week, it was announced the Department for Education (DfE) had set aside a national fund to help schools cope with growing pressures on their SEND budgets.

Of this, Cambridgeshire will get £1.5million for the year 2018/19, and the same again the following year. The boost has been welcomed, but concerns remain it is far too little to help deal with the increasing pressures the council is facing.

Jonathan Lewis, education director at Cambridgeshire County Council, welcomed the injection of funds, but warned far more is needed if they are to keep up with demand.

Mr Lewis said: “Funding has just not kept pace with the needs. There is a complete lack of funding, and it is not keeping up with the growth of our population.”

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Mr Lewis said there was no need for parents to worry, and that there was no intention of reducing the services on offer, but stressed that, unless something is done soon, serious discussions will need to be had about what is achievable with the funds available.

“I think the funding system is inadequate,” said Mr Lewis. “We do not want to reduce services. We are looking at what we can do that doesn’t reduce outcomes. We cannot risk children.”

There are now calls for the government to step up and help with more cash.

Simon Bywater, chairman of the council’s children and young people committee, welcomed the cash boost from the DfE, but said the council “can’t carry on like this”. He said he would be lobbying the government for more money.

“It is a concern,” said Cllr Bywater. “No one needs to worry right now but, ultimately, we can’t carry on like this.

“The funding needs to reflect the growth of the pressures on the county council. We are one of the fastest growing councils in the country. My role as the chairman is to lobby government. Something needs to be done sooner rather than later.”

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: ”We want to ensure children and young people with special educational needs continue to get the support that is right for them and Cambridgeshire is set to receive £67.2million in high needs funding this year. In addition to this, the Education Secretary announced a further £350 million of funding to support children with SEND across the country.

“We know that additional funding isn’t the only solution which is why part of our SEND announcement was to create more specialist places and facilities in mainstream schools giving more children access to a school place that will meet their needs.”

Cllr Bywater said problems providing for children would only “store up more and more problems” for the council in the future if people continued to need help in later life as a result of not having the right help earlier in life.

“It is really frustrating,” said Cllr Bywater. “We know there are funding pressures but ultimately, while any funding is welcome, we need to spend it wisely.”

Mr Lewis said finding a solution was going to be a “real challenge”, and said the council wanted to work with parents. He said there had been a lot of support for improving funding from the region’s MPs. He said there should be a new campaign pushing for better funding.

“I really think Cambridgeshire needs to unite behind this,” said Mr Lewis.

People can sign a petition calling for more funding for schools here