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Government announces £4m funding for special educational needs in Norfolk and Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 10:40 04 March 2017 | UPDATED: 10:40 04 March 2017

Norfolk headteachers have written to parents to ask them to lobby MPs for more schools cash. Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Norfolk headteachers have written to parents to ask them to lobby MPs for more schools cash. Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Facilities for some of the most vulnerable children in Norfolk and Suffolk could be bolstered by a £4m investment in special needs education.

The government has announced a multi-million pound funding scheme for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) pupils. Picture: Barry Batchelor/PA WireThe government has announced a multi-million pound funding scheme for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) pupils. Picture: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire

The government will, over three years, give Norfolk County Council £2.7m and Suffolk County Council £1.3m to increase school capacity and improve provision for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

It comes as part of a nationwide investment, worth £215m, to local councils, which can be spent on infrastructure and facilities.

Though councils will be free to invest the funding as they wish, they will be expected to consult with parents, carers and schools and put together a plan on how the money will be spent.

Rising pupil numbers, growing diagnoses of learning difficulties, changes in staffing costs and cuts elsewhere in education has left SEND cash stretched in many areas.

Roger Smith, chairman of Norfolk County Council’s children’s services committee, said the funds would allow them to improve the quality of SEND places.

“This £2.7m additional funding is very welcome,” he said.

Roger Smith, chairman of Norfolk County Council's children's services committee.  Photo: Bill SmithRoger Smith, chairman of Norfolk County Council's children's services committee. Photo: Bill Smith

“It will support the council’s inclusion strategy, by enabling us to improve the quality of places available for children and young people with special educational needs in a variety of educational settings including mainstream and special schools.

“Once we have some proposals in a draft plan, we look forward to sharing it by way of a consultation with local parents, carers, schools and others.”

The funding is in the form of a capital grant, which means it must be spent on constructing or improving buildings or associated equipment.

Under the investment, Cambridgeshire County Council will receive £2.4m and Essex County Council will get £5.7m.

Edward Timpson, minister for vulnerable children and families, said: “This government is determined to build a country that works for everyone - a country where every child has an equal opportunity to reach their full potential regardless of their background, and any challenges they may face.”

It can be used across the education system, including academies and free schools, from babies up to 25-year-olds.

‘A drop in the ocean’

The headteacher of a Norwich school which caters for children with complex needs has welcomed the funds - but said they are a “drop in the ocean”.

Barry Payne is executive headteacher of the Parkside School and chairman of the Wherry School Trust, which is behind the under-development Wherry School in Norwich, set up for young people with autism.

“This money will enhance certain factors across the local authority, such as the special resources base,” he said.

“But it will not go that far - we are building a new special school and we are looking at about £12m for that, so this sum will not produce huge amounts.

“If they are clever with it, though, and use all £2.7m as effectively as possible, then they will be able to enhance the provision across Norfolk.”

He said increases in national insurance and pension contributions had particularly affected special schools, which tend to have large numbers of staff.

Forced to tighten spending

Local authorities nationwide have been forced to tighten spending on SEND services, as pupil numbers rise and money for schools is squeezed.

Late last year, Norfolk County Council listed eight options to tackle an overspend in its high needs block - money for SEND children - which was expected to grow to £8.5m by 2017/18.

The strain was in part caused by a 10pc growth in pupils moving from mainstream schools to the specialist sector, as well as a rise in the number of permanently excluded pupils.

After an initial proposal to move £3m from mainstream to specialist schooling was criticised by headteachers, the council’s children’s services committee proposed a transfer of £1.8m, which was agreed earlier this year.

Other measures include reviewing funding for its specialist resource bases at schools - which provide extra services for children, while predicted growth in the block - and therefore its funding - is expected to minimise the overspend.

• Have you been affected by the SEND system? Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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