Children with special education needs will miss out due to funding cuts

Children at North Denes Primary School. Picture. North Denes Primary School.

Children at North Denes Primary School. Picture. North Denes Primary School. - Credit: Archant

Children with special educational needs and disabilities stand to be the biggest losers at a Norfolk school which opened up about its financial troubles on a BBC documentary.

North Denes Primary School in Great Yarmouth set up a food bank to support families. Pictured are he

North Denes Primary School in Great Yarmouth set up a food bank to support families. Pictured are headteacher Debbie Whiting and deputy headteacher Craig Honey. Picture: North Denes Primary School - Credit: Archant

North Denes Primary School in Great Yarmouth, which featured on Panorama on Monday, September 2, said cuts to the amount of funding it got per pupil had worsened as demand from children with special needs increased.

According to Panorama, a very high proportion children at the school - around one in four - has SEND

This increases the need for extra staff to support teachers and individual pupils in the classroom - at a time when funding has been stretched so far that many schools, including North Denes, have had no choice but to cut jobs.

The school has avoided making five teaching assistant redundancies (out of its team of 13) this September - but headteacher Debbie Whiting believes such decisions can't be put off for long in the current climate.

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Speaking to Panorama, she said: "It is so difficult to have to stand in front of really trusted, well respected staff who have invested themselves in the school and say, actually some of you are going to have to leave your job.

"You care because the impact they have on the children is going to be lost."

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The Panorama programme, filmed at North Denes in the 2019 summer term, met pupils who require extra support including a boy with cerebral palsy and another with autism, whose parents made the tough decision to move him to a specialist school.

His mother said: "They gave everything they could for him which has been amazing. I would have hoped that he could have stayed in mainstream but if they're going to be making so many cuts I don't think it's going to be possible."

The school gets around £750 of extra funding per year for each pupil with SEND - but the cost of support for their physical and learning needs can run into thousands of pounds.

North Denes made an application to Norfolk County Council, which distributes special needs funding to schools, for extra cash for the 2019/20 school year. The request was granted - but only for the autumn term.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: "Norfolk's schools receive £37m a year for pupils with special educational needs, directly into their budgets. In addition, they can apply to the council for both top-up and exceptional needs funding. This funding is agreed by a panel made of special educational needs coordinators from schools and council education officers.

"We are also investing £120m in special educational needs in Norfolk to create around 500 extra specialist school places and support children in mainstream schools. Further investment is needed in this area of growing demand so will also be looking closely at the detail of the extra funding announced by government last month, as soon as that is available."

The programme came just days after Boris Johnson pledged to pump an extra £14bn in to primary and secondary schools and bring annual funding per pupil up to £4,000 by 2021.

'Utterly devastating'

Viewers of the programme expressed shock and sadness at its findings on Twitter.

David Morgan said: "As a retired Headtacher I have just watched #panorama and I am in tears. What has happened to our education?"

Emma, tweeting as @Purple_Worship, said: "The fact that a school needs a 'Wellbeing Team' and this little girl gave the head a letter asking for food is utterly devastating. Childhood is not what it used to be."

Laura, tweeting as @maxandmummyblog, said: "Watching #Panorama and my heart is breaking. Everyone working in education knows just how much cuts have taken from our children's future and learning."

Sophie Bartlett said: "#Panorama showing what should really be a priority for our country at the moment - ensuring all our children have a high quality education with the level of funding it deserves."

The school's foodbank generated particularly shocked reactions.

"Schools running their own food banks so that children from poorer, often working families, don't go hungry. How f****** sad is that?!" said @LuckyHeronSay.

Tom Flynn said children were "paying the price for cuts," adding: "A food bank in a primary school. In 21st century Britain. Let that sink in for a moment."

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