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Counties urge action on special educational needs overspends

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County leaders have called for an urgent meeting with the education secretary over “unsustainable” rising demand for services supporting children with special educational needs.

Research by the County Councils Network has found 21 county councils overspent on their dedicated ‘high needs block’ grant over the past two years, with 22 counties projecting a further total overspend of 5.1% in 2018-19, taking the total to £175m since 2016.

CCN found overspends grew from 3.7% in 2016-17 to 4.5% in 2017-18 despite the government injecting an extra £130m into the high needs block in 2016.

CCN says eight of the 22 counties have so far asked their local schools forum or the Department for Education for permission to move money from the general schools grant towards meeting their legal obligations to support children with special educational needs ahead of the 2018-19 school year.

Of the councils which responded to the CCN survey, Hampshire CC has the largest projected overspend of £25m between 2016-19, followed by Kent CC with £23.6m and Surrey CC with at least £15m.

CCN chair Paul Carter (Con), who is also Kent’s leader, and children’s spokesman Ian Hudspeth (Con), who is also Oxfordshire’s CC leader, have written to education secretary Damian Hinds requesting an urgent meeting and called for the allocation of extra resources this year to meet demand.

Cllr Hudspeth said: “There is a growing concern from county leaders that overspends on special educational needs will soon become unsustainable – over the past three years alone, our overspends have increased by 63% and are only projected to increase with demand.

“Quite simply, there needs to be more money in the totality of the system. We are calling on government to urgently inject resource into the high needs block this year, and we want to work with ministers to come up with a sustainable long-term solution to meeting the increasing demand in special educational needs services.”

Research by LGC in March found significant weaknesses in support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are being identified in an increasing number of areas amid concern funding is insufficient to meet rising demand.

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