Numbers of children with special needs in North Northamptonshire is not reducing post pandemic as predicted
Shortage of special needs school places likely to bust the budget as anticipated drop in demand has not happened
By Sarah Ward
The number of school children with special educational needs has risen drastically over the past two years in the North of the county, as the anticipated reduction of diagnosis post Covid has not happened.
At the schools forum meeting held last week the assistant director of education for North Northamptonshire Council Neil Goddard, said the numbers of children who have an education health care plan now stands at 3,370, which is a rise of 440 on the previous year and comes after a rise of 500 the year before that. Before the pandemic there were between 20 to 30 requests for EHCP assessments each month in the area, whereas that demand has now more than tripled to as many as 80 per month.
The high needs budget - which pays for special needs places - is set to overspend by £4.995m, meaning the schools budget available to the LA (after academies are paid) is currently predicted at £125.7m against an approved budget of just over £120m.
The majority of the overspend (£2.7m) is due to paying for independent provider places as the authority is falling well short of the amount of places needed to provide every eligible child in the North with a special school place. There is also a larger number of children with special needs who need more intensive support.
A meeting of the schools forum in the West last month set out its overspend at just under £2m, indicating the situation is less acute in the West of the county.
Mr Goddard said the over-budget situation was being faced by many local education authorities.
“We are in no way alone in this. Almost every local authority is struggling with this. This is a really difficult problem. I have spoken to the DFE[Department for Education] and we are going to develop a management plan, but that is not going to have a silver bullet effect.”
The North authority lost out on a government bid for funding for a new special school last year, although is hoping to apply again when a new round of funding appears.
Asked by a schools forum member how the deficit would be managed, Mr Goddard said the government now allowed for an overdraft type arrangement, which he said indicated the government ‘does not have an answer to the problem.’
Chair of the schools forum James Birkett, who is head at Wollaston School, said following on from the increased demand post Covid, the agreement is now not to anticipate falling numbers of children needing special school places.
Read more from us on this long running SEN places shortage issue
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The trial resumes tomorrow and we plan to have a report for paying members on Wednesday morning.