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Councils in England Forecasting Shortfall in School funding

Councils in England forecast a shortfall of almost £1bn in school funding for supporting children with special needs: - A recent BBC Report into local authorities’ budgetary shortfall for supporting children with special needs has cast light on the current complex picture of councils struggling to meet the growing demand for support with funding provided from central government. 

Per the County Council Network, the accumulated deficit in England for Special Educational Needs or Disabilities (SEND) has grown to £3.2bn since 2019, with the BBC reporting a staggering forecasted collective shortfall of £926m for the current fiscal year. This forecasted shortfall continues to rise despite the Institute for Fiscal Studies calculating that since 2015, meeting SEND needs has absorbed around 50%, approximately £3.5bn, of the cash increase in school spending in England.

Alongside this financial shortfall, last year saw a 26% increase on the number of new Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) issued across England and official statistics published this month show almost 600,000 children and young people in England have an EHCP. As described by Sarah Morgan, a mother interviewed by the BBC as part of their recent reporting about her experience obtaining special educational provision for her daughter, the process of obtaining an EHCP can be “really hard and overwhelming,” with many parents having to turn to the First-Tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) to get the plan finalised and updated. Once the EHCP is in place, it imposes a legal duty on councils to meet the child or young person’s needs.

As these financial pressures intensify, 38 councils have entered into “safety valve” deals with the government. These deals serve as a bailout agreement whereby the council receives extra funding in return for an agreement to cut SEND deficits.

The fear for many parents is that this may lead these councils to impose limits on support, a fear supported by findings from Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSEA), a charity that helps families navigate the system. IPSEA asked the so-called ‘safety valve’ councils to provide details of what the agreement involved, and concluded from responses of 27 councils that there was “very little focus on children’s needs” and much more on “the financial bottom line”. 

Head teacher Michelle Omoboni from Fishponds Church of England Primary in Bristol reported the need to make an application for an EHCP in order to get funding in the future, as ‘top-up’ funding received from councils is insufficient to cover the actual staffing cost for additional support. 

Bristol’s plan currently runs until 2029-2030, and the council is set to receive £4.6m this year in return for putting in place steps to cut the SEND deficit. For Ms. Omoboni, it is unclear how they will achieve this without children going without the support they need. 

The BBC’s investigation identified Cheshire East, which is not a ’safety valve‘ council, as the council with the biggest shortfall in proportion to its funding. Due to a special agreement in place with all councils in England until 2026, its deficit of around £32m for SEND for the last financial year has been added to what is called a “negative reserve”.

Research from a cross-party network representing County Councils suggests that if the deal to keep these deficits off the books isn’t renewed, or extra money found by 2026, around a quarter of councils might need to ask for a government bailout.

With the upcoming General Election fast approaching, the National Association of Head Teachers has called for any new government to write off the accumulated deficits in council budgets. While many of the main parties’ manifestos include proposed changes to the SEND system, none mention the shortfall in SEND budgets directly.

If your child has an EHCP and you have concerns that their special educational needs are not being met, whether you are looking to have your child’s needs assessed, or whether you are looking for assistance with an appeal to the First-Tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability), please contact our specialist education lawyers today.

Education law can be complex and we understand the difficulties that parents can face in attempting to get the appropriate support in place for their children. Our specialist education solicitors can offer their extensive experience to guide families through the EHCP process and achieve the best possible outcome for the child or young person.

If you would like to discuss your matter with one of our specialist education legal team, please contact us on 0333 202 7175 or