North Yorkshire’s mainstream schools budgets set to be top sliced for high needs pupils

Classroom file pic.

North Yorkshire County Council looks set to ask the Government to allow it to “top slice” mainstream schools’ budgets to cover the spiralling costs of educating high needs pupils, despite mainstream headteachers saying the move would create issues.

The authority’s leaders will consider the action after being warned the authority is facing a deficit on its special educational needs budget of £7m by April and up to another £6m the following year.

Executive members of the authority will meet next week to examine a recommendation to submit a request to the Education Secretary to move one per cent of the mainstream schools’ Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) to its high needs budget.

In a consultation with the council, mainstream schools insisted their budgets were already overstretched and they could not afford to subsidise the high needs budget as they had agreed to in recent years.

One headteacher said his school was “under the same financial pressures” and the proposal did “not seem at all equitable to take a higher proportion out of the schools block into higher needs”.

Another headteacher stated school budgets were already sharing the financial impact of increased numbers of students with Education, Health and Care Plans. She added: “We acknowledge the pressure on the High Needs block, but believe that this should not be resolved by top slicing school budgets.”

In a report to leading councillors, education officers said despite achieving some success through intensive government lobbying by the authority, special educational needs funding provided by the Department of Education continued to be insufficient.

It states the recently announced 11.1 per cent high needs funding increase for 2020-21 amounted to about £5.4m extra, but the increase did not address the forecast budget pressures for the next financial year.

The report states there has been a 68 per cent increase in students classed as having high needs since 2014 and continued growth was expected in 2020. It states: “This is an unfunded burden on schools and the local authority.”

The authority said while it had launched a fresh strategy for special educational needs provision last year, financial savings would only be realised over a number of years.

The authority’s executive member for education, Councillor Patrick Mulligan said the council appreciated the extra funding that had been announced by the government, which illustrated that the financial crisis had been recognised.

He said: “While the high needs demand keeps increasing we are trying to contain it. We don’t want to be taking money off mainstream schools, but we don’t have much of a choice.

“I appreciate their situation with tight budgets, but we are in a no-win situation having to address the special educational needs demand.”

Cllr Mulligan said the council would continue to lobby for investment across all areas of education and for action to tackle the financial pressures unintentionally caused by the introduction of Education, Health and Care Plans.