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Government SEND funding for Cambridgeshire will help create extra places

Pressure on school places for children with additional needs could be eased after the county council secured millions in additional funding from the government.

Cambridgeshire County Council was facing widespread cuts in its support for children with SEND due to a £58m budget gap.

Cambridgeshire County Council was facing widespread cuts in its support for children with SEND due to a £58m budget gap. Picture: iStock
Cambridgeshire County Council was facing widespread cuts in its support for children with SEND due to a £58m budget gap. Picture: iStock

The extra money came through a process known as a ‘safety valve’ and is worth £49m to the council.

Under the agreement with the Department for Education, the authority will use the funds to balance its budget for children with additional needs by 2026/7.

Cllr Bryony Goodliffe, chair of council’s children and young people committee, said: “One of our main responsibilities is to make sure we help every child reach their potential – something which is more challenging but even more necessary for those with special educational needs or disabilities.

“We have seen a sharp rise in the number of young people with additional needs in recent years and funding from the government has not kept pace with that demand, something which is now being recognised.

“Moreover, by awarding us the level of funding that we requested it has been recognised that we are a council that can be counted on to spend the funding wisely and work sensitively with parents and carers of children with SEND – of which I am one – to achieve some challenging changes which is testament to our team here and the great work they are doing.”

The government has also allocated a further £11.3m for capital funding to Cambridgeshire to support new SEND provision on mainstream school sites.

The funding will help tackle a gap in the budget for SEND provision which is expected to hit around £58m by the end of this month – caused by demand for services far outstripping government funding to Cambridgeshire for SEND services over the past six years.

As part of the agreement, Cambridgeshire will make a contribution of £9m over five years towards the reduction in the overall deficit of the Dedicated Schools Grant.

Requests for Education, Health and Care Plans in Cambridgeshire – the document which describes a young person’s special needs and the support they will need to meet their educational goals – have more than doubled from 3,429 in 2016 to more than 7,000 currently.

The challenging picture is one being faced by many local authorities across the country with more than half also in deficit for their High Needs budget – the money allocated by the DfE to be spent on SEND provision.

Cambridgeshire has historically received less funding per child for education than other areas. This is while still responding to a rapidly growing population of children with special educational needs and disabilities who are presenting with greater complexities, some of which relates to young people suffering more with social, emotional and mental health arising from the Covid pandemic.

To meet these challenges, the council will use the new funding to create 463 new special school places.

There will also be extra support for 105 pupils at mainstream schools by September 2026 through a programme of expanding current sites and building new schools.

The council has also applied to the free school programme for two new special schools in Gamlingay and Fenland.

As part of the agreement, the council has committed to deliver changes to the high needs system to make it sustainable in the long term by working with parents and carers and the wider education system.

These changes include:

  • Working in a more transparent and consistent way with partners and parents when awarding Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and ensuring appropriate provision is put in place;
  • Developing a special schools outreach model to help support children and young people with SEND in mainstream provision;
  • Developing new provision for pupils currently on tuition packages to access mainstream school settings;
  • Ensuring support and training exists so there is a consistent offer of support in mainstream schools including funding to support pupils without an EHCP;
  • Strengthening processes around mediation and disputes in order to reduce the requirement for tribunals;
  • Increasing independence of children and young people by targeting reviews to ensure provision is appropriate, meets needs and promotes independence.

Cllr Maria King, vice chair of the children and young people committee, added: “It is great news we will now be able to deliver hundreds of extra school places for young people with SEND and we can now commit to balancing our budgets going forward.

“We do call on the government to continue its support and to address the challenges that we are facing in the provision of SEND service both locally and nationally.”

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