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Special needs education could suffer ‘catastrophic’ hit through proposed £5m cut

£5m could be cut from special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) funding given to school clusters. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA

£5m could be cut from special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) funding given to school clusters. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA

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Education for vulnerable children in Norfolk could suffer a “catastrophic” hit if plans to cut it by £5m go ahead, it has been warned.

The Schools Forum, a Norfolk County Council body which represents educators, has proposed cutting the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) funding given to school clusters, groups of nearby schools, by more than half - from £9.4m to £4.4m.

The council has forecast an £8.9m overspend in the high needs block - which supports pupils with SEND - by 2017/18, with a £2.6m loan outstanding from the last financial year.

MORE: Parents battle to secure support for Norfolk children with special educational needs

The cluster proposal is one of five put forward to bring down the figure, which has, in part, been caused by a rise in the number of permanent exclusions and ongoing private and out of county SEND placements.

Documents on the proposals say that cluster funding is not always used effectively and often has “no clarity”.

“There is not a consistent approach to the allocation of funding within clusters, and currently there is not a full county-wide picture of impact and effectiveness of the funding available,” they said.

MORE: Almost £1m spent on private or out of county SEND places in three months

One headteacher agreed that, with many schools in multi-academy trusts, it was a fragmented picture - but that the proposals could have a “catastrophic” effect on pupils.

Another forum recommendation is to set up a Norfolk Inclusion Incentive Fund worth £1.1m to “respond to genuine funding requests to enable inclusion” from schools.

In another, the only one of the five which is confirmed, £2.3m will be transferred from the schools block, for mainstream education, into the high needs block.

The documents acknowledge that it could risk a “reduced ability of schools to be inclusive” - with many already struggling with squeezed budgets.

MORE: Schools in Norfolk could be charged thousands more for expelling pupils

A fourth recommendation centres on forward planning and would make savings of £1.8m, it says, by better meeting SEND needs locally and cutting permanent exclusions.

Four of the five proposals will go to the council’s children’s services committee in January, and then onto policy and resources committee.

Chris Snudden, assistant director of children’s services, said a bigger population, more children with SEND and an increase in exclusions had led to the projected overspend, but that the council was working with school leaders to make changes to the way schools are funded.

MORE: Norfolk expels more children under 11 from school than almost anywhere in the country

School services to be hit

Another of the forum’s five recommendations is cutting local authority hosted or contracted services by £500,000.

They include savings of:

• £58,000 by removing the critical incident support service - which helps schools during serious incidents such as the death of a pupil. It will move to a traded model, where schools pay when they need it.

• £105,000 by ceasing council support for Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS), which helps pupils develop social and emotional skills.

• £46,000 by ending council management of manual handling advice, which helps schools who have pupils with physical disabilities.

• £150,000 by stopping the specialist equipment service, which helps schools provide equipment or adjustments for children with SEND.

• £85,000 by making the School 2 School Support service, which offers mainstream schools advice on SEND, a traded model.

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