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Cost for high needs children set to create funding gap in Bexley as schools approach ‘crunch time’

PUBLISHED: 07:00 12 July 2018

Newly qualified teachers at their graduation ceremony at the Redbridge Institute of Adult Education.

Newly qualified teachers at their graduation ceremony at the Redbridge Institute of Adult Education.

Archant

Schools face a “crunch time” as cost pressures for high needs children are set to lead to a funding gap in Bexley.

The budget for high needs children in Bexley was overspent by £343k last year, and the costs are expected to be higher for the next year.

Council officers predict that, following spending pressures and cuts to funding, the gap for the high needs costs is expected to be more than £1m by next year.

School chiefs were told at a meeting on June 25 that the pressures are not unique to Bexley, but that significant changes will need to happen to plug the predicted funding gap by 2020.

Council bosses told headteachers from the borough that robust reviews of spending would take place to ensure money is being spent correctly, and that children are getting the right support.

Other councils have dealt with similar pressures by reducing the amount of extra cash SEND pupils need on top of the standard budget to participate in schools, and by moving money from other budget blocks.

Discussing the proposals that the council thinks will plug the gap, Mark Hannon, headteacher at St Fidelis Catholic primary, said: “Experience would tell me that measures outlined will not be realised in that quick a time-scale, or have the big an impact on savings that we would wish for them to have.

“The big question is what is the school forum’s stance going to be when those two things come into conflict – when we don’t make the savings we need to make by the time 2020 kicks in and we can’t top slice any more. I don’t see us making the savings we need to make to get to a point where we are balanced – there is a crunch time coming.”

Councillors were quizzed in April about the “real terms” funding cuts facing schools, but the decision to slice school’s budgets and transfer cash to ease the pressures on SEND (special educational needs and disability) children was defended by education Cllr John Fuller.

The increasing costs come from a higher number of children needing extra support and an increase in teachers and specialist support staff salaries.

Sharing resources was one way proposed to help save, as well as reviewing the needs and support given to children who are in different “bands” of needs.

Wesley Guy, head of finance for education and social care, said: “In response to where we end up by 2020, that is a key concern and one of the council’s key priorities around lobbying.

“Obviously if the schools forum requests the council express their concerns, that strengthens anything we submit because it says it is not just coming from us, it is coming from the school’s communities as well.”

The forum unanimously agreed to have their concerns about funding pressures expressed by the council as it lobbies for more money.

Mr Hannon said: “I think the forum should say that despite the good work by the local authority to get funding into a position where it is more appropriate there are still concerns that it is just not going to get to where we need to get to to be balanced.”

A recent survey by the National Education Union suggested that SEND children across the country are not getting the right education support because of cuts.

A national survey, of more than 900 school staff, found that cuts affecting SEND pupils have been worse this year.

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