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Projected £0.5bn overspend in special educational needs support

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Overspends on budgets supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are projected to more than double this year to half a billion pounds, according to research.

The interim findings of a survey by Isos Partnership for the Local Government Association, published today, found the 73 councils which responded are expecting an overspend in their ‘high needs block’ funding totalling £280m in 2018-19 - which extrapolates to £536m for the 152 local authorities with SEND responsibilities.

This compares to an estimated funding shortfall of £267m in 2017-18 which followed overspends in both the previous two years.

The LGA is warning the growing funding gap for SEND support is placing councils at risk of failing to meet their statutory duties, with vulnerable children in danger of missing out on mainstream education without urgent government intervention.

Government figures show the number of children requiring formal support for SEND increased by 35% in five years to 319,819 in 2017-18, with a rise of 25% of pupils attending specialist schools and colleges over the same period.

The LGA said the increase in demand is due to factors including population growth, raised parent expectations following reforms in the Children and Families Act 2014, more children over 16 on education, health and care plans, and funding pressures on schools which affect the support they can provide.

A new funding formula for education is said to be contributing to pressures as it removed flexibility for councils to shift money between the dedicated schools grant and the high needs block.

A government report published in October last year said significant weaknesses had been identified in nine (30%) of the 30 areas inspected by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission between March 2016 and March 2017. LGC analysis in March this year found of the further 19 areas inspected since then, weaknesses were found in 12 areas (63%).

Chair of the LGA’s children and young people board Anntoinette Bramble (Lab) called on the government to address the SEND funding shortfall in next month’s local government finance settlement.

She added: “Parents rightly expect and aspire to see that their child has the best possible education and receives the best possible support.

“Councils have pulled out all the stops to try and do this but are reaching the point where the money is simply not there to keep up with demand.”

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