School special needs funding ‘welcome - but not enough’
AN award of £1.2million in extra government funding to South Gloucestershire Council for children with special needs has had a mixed reception.
Over two years, funding split into equal instalments of £616,630 has been allocated to South Gloucestershire by Education Secretary Damian Hinds to help alleviate the financial pressures on Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
The Conservatives who run the council have welcomed the money, saying their leader Toby Savage and Thornbury and Yate MP Luke Hall had met Ministers, including Mr Hinds and Schools Minister Lord Agnew to help secure it.
But opponents said the money fell far short of what was needed to address the underfunding.
South Gloucestershire has been named as the lowest funded authority in the county per pupil but through the introduction of the government’s National Funding Formula (NFF), the gap between the highest funded and lowest funded has diminished, South Gloucestershire receiving an additional £8 million over two years – the 13th largest in the country, out of 157 areas.
Councillor Savage said: “We are grateful to the government for seeing the need to invest further in our most vulnerable young people and are delighted that South Gloucestershire is seeing the benefits.
“But while this is very good news, there is much more work to do, and my fellow Conservatives and I will continue to press the government for further funding and ensure our children are given the best possible start.”
But Labour said the money came against a backdrop of years of falling funding.
Labour's education lead Councillor Gareth Manson said: “The Tory government has failed to invest in our young people. The Independent Institute for Fiscal Studies states that, in real terms, per pupil funding has fallen by 8% since 2010. South Glos has been one of those authorities which has received the smallest proportion of this shrinking funding for a number of years. Now, after the intervention of South Glos Tories, it is the worst.
“We have a £3 million annual shortfall in the SEND budget, and we welcome £0.6million a year to make up a small part of this shortfall, but to hear Luke Hall MP describe this as a ‘funding win’ beggars belief.”
A spokesman for the Fair Funding for all Schools South Glos campaign group said: “The government has been rattled by the fierce campaign being waged by SEND parents and Fair Funding groups like ours. As a result it has given a small and inadequate grant to all local education authorities including South Glos.
“It is well known, and came out in shocking detail in the recent BBC School programme which covered some South Glos academies, that SEND provision is grossly inadequate and it is an area where needs are growing whilst real term funding is decreasing. Additionally, since many children with special needs go unidentified, adequate funding for the main budget is equally a priority for children with and without special needs.
“We are dismayed that South Glos Council sees this as something to be welcomed when it falls so far short of the sum that is needed for basic requirements and when we know the extent that children, parents and teachers are struggling.”
Fair Funding for All Schools South Glos is an informal campaign group and it is holding its next public meeting on Thursday February 7 at Shireway Community Centre in Yate at 7pm. Everyone is welcome. To find out more information, join the Fair Funding for All Schools South Glos Facebook group or email firstname.lastname@example.org.