St Helens headteacher's fears over funding for children with additional needs
Children with additional needs are at risk from being turned away from mainstream schools due to a lack of funding, a primary school head teacher has warned.
The warning came during the latest meeting of the schools forum, as governors and school heads noted the budget for 2019-20.
Funding for schools is met from the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG), a ring-fenced grant from central government, which is distributed by the local authority.
The indicative DSG for St Helens in 2019-20, prior to adjustments for academy funding, is £145 million.
Despite an overall net increase of £5 million compared with 2018-19, members expressed concern there is still not enough funds to provide support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Chairman Wayne Leatherbarrow, governor of Birchley St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Billinge, said: “The reality is that funding it not increasing significantly year on year and is not meeting the total cost of the needs of provision within St Helens.”
The issue of high needs funding to support pupils with additional needs has been a long-running concern for the schools forum.
In December members rejected plans to transfer £540,000 to the high needs block – one of four blocks that makes up the DSG – to fund the costs of top-up payments for children with SEND in primary and secondary schools.
Last week the schools forum was told the council has now asked the Department for Education if it can reduce this figure to £216,000.
Claire Cropper, head teacher at St Bartholomew’s Catholic Primary School in Rainhill, warned that if the situation does not improve then mainstream schools will begin to turn away children with additional needs.
Ms Cropper said: “As governors it’s our responsibly to meet the needs of children within our schools, but it’s the authority’s responsibility to meet the needs of children with high needs. That is what affected our decision.
“I think we all understand there is only a finite amount of money the government has, and this local authority has only got so much, but really it is a suggestion that people have made before.
“It’s this group of children that’s being passed from one place to another and it is really, really concerning.
“Because it will get to a point where children with additional needs will not be welcome in schools, and that’s terrible.”
Bill Bradbury, chairman of governors of Chapel End Primary School in Billinge, said there is an “ever-increasing” number of children who need additional support, with funding remaining “fairly static”.
He also claimed the lack of high needs funding pupils is contributing to children being sent to pupil referral units (PRUs).
PRUs are a type of school established and run by the local authority specifically for pupils who cannot attend a mainstream school, either through illness or exclusion.
According to school census data, there were 23 times more children taking GSCEs in PRUs in St Helens in 2016-2017 than the number officially expelled over the three-year period leading up to the exams.
Mr Bradbury said: “It all comes down to high needs funding, and we need more funding. It is an issue, educationally throughout the country, and someone needs to address this.
“Ever increasingly, parents and kids are not getting a fair deal out of it. Not through any fault of the school but through fault of a lack of funding.”