Hackney’s councillor in charge of families, early years and play intends to write to the government every month about the funding crisis facing the Town Hall over its provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
The Town Hall is now operating at a deficit in this area, with an overspend of £9.9m on SEND only partially covered by savings made elsewhere in its education department, which, according to families boss Cllr Caroline Woodley in her first letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, involved “incredibly difficult decisions”.
The funding pressure on SEND was left at £5m, which was met from the Town Hall’s reserves, which are now “exhausted”, leaving an overspend of £131,000 for 2019/20 as the number of children with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) continue to increase with no corresponding increase in government funding.
Cllr Caroline Woodley said: “Last year, we were forced to overspend by almost £10m to offer vital support to Hackney children with special educational needs and disabilities.
“The government has frozen funding despite the number of pupils we support increasing significantly year on year.
“Aside from a steady growth in our pupil population in Hackney, since 2014 councils have been asked to take responsibility for providing support from 0-25 years, rather than statutory school age, but have not received the funds to match.
“SEND services up and down the country are massively underfunded by the government and can no longer draw from reserves.
“As a council we are looking at what we can do. We have long term plans to substantially increase in-borough provision, and have already taken steps to boost the offer in local schools, but we have always been clear that the government are the only ones who can make a real difference here.
“We cannot understand why the government will not adequately fund this vital work, and will be writing to them each month until we hear otherwise.”
Since the Children and Families Act 2014 was introduced, the number of EHCPs in Hackney has jumped to 2,308, with the pupil population also growing “significantly”, according to Woodley.
SEND costs must be met from a particular budget – the High Needs block of the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) – with the families boss highlighting that despite the significant rise in numbers and costs, this funding source has not seen an “adequate increase”.
It is understood that Town Hall officers are now reviewing how to account for the deficit in Hackney’s DSG, given that from this year councils have been required to get government sign-off on funding DSG deficits from other resources.
Finance lead Cllr Rebecca Rennison said: “We have reached the stage where we are now reporting that our SEND provision is operating in a deficit. Obviously we are going to continue to provide those services, but at what point will central government start to listen and notice what is happening on the ground.
“Cllr Woodley is quite rightly going to write to government every month that we are operating at a deficit. This can’t be just yet another issue that local government are complaining yet again. This is serious. There is nothing more important than services for young people and our educational provision. It can’t just be ignored.”