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‘Alarmingly low’ child protection figures and cuts to special needs education debated at council meeting

PUBLISHED: 08:32 17 January 2018 | UPDATED: 08:51 17 January 2018

A child learning at school. (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA)

A child learning at school. (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Archant

Funding given to school groups to help children with complex needs will be cut by £5m.

Norfolk County Council proposed cutting the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) budget for school clusters - groups of nearby schools - from £9.4m to £4.4m.

It is part of five suggestions to tackle an £8.9m overspend in the high needs block (HNB) - government funds given to schools, through the council, to educate and support vulnerable pupils.

At a meeting of its children’s services committee on Tuesday, Sandra Squire, an independent councillor, admitted that the cluster system had flaws, but said she was “utterly appalled” by the recommendation.

The funds will go towards the Norfolk Inclusion Incentive Fund, which will see schools bid for funds to enable inclusion.

Local authority services totalling £500,000 will also be stopped, including the provision of specialist equipment to schools. With one of the five proposals - a £2.3m transfer from mainstream schools funding to the HNB - already agreed, the other four were also pushed through at the meeting.

Meanwhile, more than one third of children considered to be at risk by the council are not seen within its target window, the meeting heard.

MORE: Budget slash for Norfolk’s children’s centres moves forward, but councillors clash over decision

Only 58pc of children newly put on child protection plans (CP) were seen within the council’s 10-day goal in November.

A CP plan outlines how a child considered to be at risk can be kept safe and what support families need.

The council’s timescale was reduced from 20 working days in July, leading to varying success across the district. In Breckland and south Norfolk, 84pc of children were seen in that time over the month, but in north Norfolk just 32pc were.

Councillors heard that the overwhelming caseloads for its social workers had hampered efforts.

Liberal Democrat councillor Ed Maxfield described the figure as “worrying”, while Labour’s Emma Corlett described it as “alarmingly low”.

In October, the figure was 68pc and in September it was 67pc.

And earlier in the meeting, council officers pledged to do more to help disadvantaged children access music.

It came after Mrs Corlett asked the council how many looked-after children and youngsters eligible for free school meals accessed the council’s music service.

It offers 50pc off fees for instrument hire and music lessons for children in receipt of free school meals, and removes the cost entirely for children in care.

The council said that just 36 children eligible for free school meals accessed the service - 1.5pc of the total. And for looked-after children, the number was two - 0.08pc of those in care.

Ms Snudden said: “I will pledge that our Virtual School for Children in Care will take up the mantle on this one because we must ensure we increase that take-up. It is very disappointing. We do have a very vibrant music service and we want to make sure that message is getting across.”

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