Funding increase for schools in Cambridgeshire but ‘huge challenges’ remain
Schools in Cambridgeshire are set to receive a “significant increase” in funding but “huge financial challenges” remain in the county’s high needs budget.
Cambridgeshire’s combined education budget looks set to rise by £22.7m in the financial year 2022-23, of which £7.1m is for high needs.
But Cambridgeshire County Council’s director of education Jonathan Lewis has warned the authority still faces an “extensive budget gap” in the high needs block which is expected to reach £40m.
And although high needs funding has increased by more than was predicted earlier in the year, it is still “significantly lower than the required increase” to meet current pressures.
The high needs education budget includes provision for special educational needs and disability learning (SEND), as well as provision for children with other high support needs.
“Cambridgeshire has seen quite exceptional growth in the number of children with additional needs and education health and care plans and this has led to increasing pressures being placed on our specialist settings at a pace that has been unprecedented historically,” Mr Lewis told a meeting of the children and young people committee.
“The council faces an extensive budget gap in it’s high needs which is expected to reach £40m by the end of the financial year. The pressures we are facing are being experienced by all local authorities, not just in Cambridgeshire.”
The uplift in the schools budget is as a result of a combination of the additional investment through the national funding formula and the net increase in pupils between October 2020 and October 2021.
Additional funding has also been provided for early years education which the authority has committed to passing on to providers.
Mr Lewis said: “This is a good settlement for Cambridgeshire. It does provide an uplift for our schools, but it does not go back over the many years of underfunding in Cambridgeshire. And we still have significant challenges at school level, particularly in small primary schools where the challenges will remain.
“In terms of early years, it’s positive again to see an increase. I think this is the largest increase we’ve had in many years but we know this sector is under significant sustainability pressures and we continue to battle to make sure provision is available in the local area. But even at these increases that is still an incredibly challenging situation to deal with.
“My observations around the high needs block – a positive settlement, but the deficit we have on the high needs block, the increasing need we are facing in Cambridgeshire, means that despite that substantial increase, we still have huge financial challenges.
“It’s a good settlement but it’s good to be cautious and say there’s still a long way to go until Cambridgeshire is fairly funded.”
The actual amount to be received by the local authority is subject to change.