By Anne Dachel
Every week when I look through the stories I’ve collected on Loss of Brain Trust, I search for the one that really got my attention.
This week it was one from the U.K.
The Northamptonshire Telegraph ran the story, North Northants pupils forced into expensive out-of-county placements as special schools are full to bursting.
Subtitle: The north of the county's high needs budget has a deficit £2.3m [$3.1M U.S.]
The story painted a pretty bleak picture of the cost the county council is facing.
A funding squeeze and a lack of places for some of the north of the county's most vulnerable school pupils are causing significant budget pressures for education bosses. Because many of our special schools and mainstream units are running at, or over, capacity, children are having to be educated in out-of-county schools that have spaces, which come at an eye-watering top-up cost.
There is an ongoing increase in the number of Education, Care and Health Plans (EHCPs) administered in the county and North Northants Council's education department is also having to deal with a £2.1m [$2.8M] hole in the special education budget inherited from Northamptonshire County Council - plus an overspend of £300,000 [$402K] and rising in this financial year.
"Our special schools are running at a very high level of capacity," he said. "Many actually are over capacity as tribunals are requiring them to take over their published number to admit (PAN). …
The government's Department for Education funds schools using its Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) which is split into four portions - one of those is known as the high needs block. The report to Schools Forum members said: "In recent years there has been considerable growth in pupils identified as having SEND and in those requiring an EHCP, pupils requiring alternative provision and pupils requiring specialist provision. This shows no signs of abating. "As a result, many local authorities have found that the high needs block has been insufficient to fully meet identified needs. …
"Currently, there is year-on year growth in these areas and with this sustainable demand on the HNB."
Mr Goddard said that there was a historic overspend of £2.115m [$2.84M] brought forward from the former Northamptonshire County Council which disbanded in April 2021, and that there was already an added £300,000 [$406,000] overspend for this financial year, which is expected to grow further. He said: "We're having to use high-cost out-of-county special school placements because our special schools are full and that's causing expenditure. There's ongoing growth in the number of EHCPs across the system.
Just like in the U.S., disabled students have a right to a free and appropriate education, and if the local county school can’t provide it, the council has to pay for out-of-area schooling.
This year's NNC budget for out-of-county placement top-ups was £7.2m [$9.8M], but projections show the actual cost may be as high as £9.3m [$12.6M] - a £2.1m [$2.8M] difference. Hatton Academies Trust chief executive Rob Hardcastle said that 86 per cent of the overspend was coming from these placements and asked whether it was being caused by capacity issues, or because we didn't have the specialisms needed in Northants.
Mr Goddard said: "We are always going to need to use out-of-county specialist placements because we simply can't meet the needs of every child locally.
"However, our special schools are full and as such in order to ensure school children are not left without a school place for longer than is absolutely necessary we have to use the higher cost ... placements more than we'd want to.
The ending was really ominous:
Amid rising numbers of children who needed EHCPs, the committee heard there had been 'deep concerns' around high needs funding, which was introduced in 2017. The education sector told the committee that the funding levels were 'unsustainable' and had not kept pace with increasing demand. Dave Hill, Executive Director of Children, Families and Learning at Surrey Council, told the committee: "Unless we can address the issues about SEND funding, the whole system will implode at some point.”
The scary part of this is that reporter Kate Cronin never asked why there is “ongoing growth” and “unsustainable demand” in special needs places in schools in Northampton.
Simply put, why are they more disabled children filling the schools?
It’s the obvious factor behind all the rest of the story, sadly, it’s never talked about.
They just need to increase funding and build more schools.
And be prepared, next year the numbers will increase.
There was also a story from the London borough of Hillingdon with some pretty strong language. The piece was titled, Labour says school special needs debt is more than council reserves.
That was a little bit of an understatement compared to the facts of the situation.
Labour’s spokesperson Cllr Kerri Prince claims the council is trying to get a Government bail-out to avoid bankruptcy.
She says a cumulative deficit of £38m [$51M] by the end of March in the high needs education budget is more than the council has in general reserves.
Travistock (SW England) Here the council is also dealing with soaring costs.
The boss of Devon County Council has described the funding system for special educational needs as ‘broken’ as the authority’s total overspend looks set to rise to almost £90 million [$122M].
It seems there’s futile attempt to kick the can down the road.
The Government has told councils to put overspends for supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) into separate accounts for three years until April 2023, while it develops a new plan to fund provision. It means Devon’s effective debt on the service – currently forecast to reach £88 million [$119M] by April – does not currently count towards its main revenue figures, However, the council is concerned about what will happen when the ring-fencing arrangement ends next year.
It’s not just Devon.
Dr Norrey described it as ‘a national problem’. He said the Government were expected to publish a consultation paper on changing the system ‘based on the experience of the fact that this is a broken system. It doesn’t actually work. It doesn’t deliver what parents and carers want and financially it is unsustainable across the country’.
We were left with a warning.
However, Councillor Alan Connett (Lib Dem, Exminster & Haldon), leader of the opposition, expressed concern about the debt figure, warning: ‘£88.1 million [$119M] is more than 50 per cent of the council’s free reserves – it is a significant deficit that the council is carrying.’
Meanwhile, they keep building special schools costing millions while officials couldn’t be happier.
Stockton (NE England) A new school for autistic children is completed. Cost: $1.7M.
We’re told it’s ‘hugely exciting’ and the local council is ‘delighted.’
Albrighton (Central England) Plans to convert a farmhouse into a residential special school have been approved. It will “help meet the demand” at a cost of $2.4M.
It will provide for 18 children. We’re also told it will create “up to 65 jobs.”
Fakenham (E. England) A new autism school is open. It’s “part of a $162M program to address the ever-increasing demand for specialist education places across the county.”
It has a capacity for 100 children.
The programme will create 500 additional new special education places.
Aughnacliffe A local school added a $13,000 autism classroom.
County Offaly A school announced the opening of a sensory room.
…the room will be used by students who require sensory breaks due to sensory dysregulation.
The room will provide a calming environment for those whose sensory systems may become overwhelmed with the day to day encounters in school life.
County Cork Parents are desperate for secondary school places for their autistic children.
Parents and children in Cork feel “as if they’re falling off the edge of a cliff” making the jump from primary to secondary school when it comes to those with special education needs, a local TD has claimed….
The most important figure provided by the NCSE is that 193 primary schools have ASD provision for students and only 70 are available at post-primary level.
News from the U.S. is limited and not really earth-shaking when comes to autism/special ed.
There was a notable exception. A story from Brooklyn, NY was a dose of reality.
There is a new six story yeshiva for 150 autistic students being considered. The rabbi in charge said that “parents had been reaching out to him asking him to open the school….
“The need is growing, autism is growing according to CDC.’
Anne Dachel is Media Director for Age of Autism.