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Cambridgeshire schools face making cuts and potential redundancies with funding shortfall in special needs budget

Cambridgeshire’s overspending on high needs education has increased more than five-fold in three years according to the county council.

The situation means some of Cambridgeshire’s schools face making cuts and potentially even redundancies as the county council looks to transfer funds between budgets to meet the shortfall.

The high needs budget supports children with special education needs and disabilities.

A consultation is underway on cuts to the county's special needs schools including Meadowgate Academy in Wisbech. (22192782)
A consultation is underway on cuts to the county's special needs schools including Meadowgate Academy in Wisbech. (22192782)

Among the schools likely to be affected is Meadowgate Academy in Wisbech, which is currently among those special needs schools in consultation with the county council about future budgets.

Headteacher Michelle Flanz said: "At the moment it is only a proposal and I don't have any figures, so I would not like to speculate. However, it is deeply concerning and everybody is worried. I don't think anybody wants this to happen."

Funding for schools is set to increase nationally, including in Cambridgeshire, but a council report on the high needs education budget says funding is not keeping pace with the rising pressures.

The county council is expecting Cambridgeshire’s 2020/21 high needs funding from central government to increase by around 8.4 per cent compared to this year, and yet a council report to the schools forum earlier this month says it “simply isn’t enough” and is not matching the growth in demand or “higher expectations”.

The council said the anticipated increase in funding is around £2 million less than it was expecting “and will result in the need to make further significant savings on these budget areas”.

The council is proposing moving £6.5 million or 1.8 per cent of the “schools block” grant – the money that makes up individual school budgets – to a separate budget for high needs education.

The council issued a consultation on the proposals to Cambridgeshire’s schools on Monday and is seeking an endorsement from the school’s forum, but the decision will ultimately be taken by councillors on the county’s children and young people committee.

Despite a broad recognition across the schools forum for the need to address the high needs funding shortage, teachers warned of the impact elsewhere in the system.

The Principal of Ely College, Richard Spencer, told the forum: “We would be irresponsible to be recommending cuts of this scale in our secondary sector.

He added: “There is no capacity within the secondary sector to deliver these kinds of savings without risking safeguarding issues emerging”.

“If we are asked to recommend a transfer like this I think we potentially will be recommending an irresponsible measure be taken. The cuts are going to have to be managed either way, we accept that, but it’s whether or not the school’s forum recommend them.”

According to the council, as of April this year, Cambridgeshire has the fourth-highest Designated School Grant deficit in the country, and it forecasts it will rise to third in March 2020.

The council report says “there is no funding to meet the increasing number and complexity of high needs pupils. To the contrary significant savings need to be delivered.”

The high needs budget has moved from an overspend of £1.3 million in 2015/16 to £8.8 million just three years later.

The county overspent on its total dedicated schools grant last year and had to submit deficit recovery plans to the Department for Education.

A consultation for the affected schools is set to run until December.

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