More money needed for Hertfordshire children with special educational needs and disabilities says councillor

“We have a perfect storm brewing," she warns

By Deborah Price, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 25th February 2022, 2:23 pm
Updated Friday, 25th February 2022, 2:24 pm
County councillor Teresa Heritage has raised concerns about funding for SEND pupils

Concerns have been raised about the level of government funding allocated to Hertfordshire pupils who have special educational needs and disabilities.

And with special schools ‘reaching capacity’, leading county councillor Teresa Heritage has warned there is “a perfect storm brewing”.

Despite some additional funding for next year (2022/23), Hertfordshire is said to receive the fourth lowest amount of SEND funding per head of all the 150 local authorities in England.

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And now Cllr Heritage – who is executive member for children, young people and families – has written to Secretary of State Nadim Zahawi to highlight a funding system that ‘unfairly penalises’ Hertfordshire.

In the letter, Cllr Heritage points to the significant increase in demand for support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in the county.

There are, she says, 9,264 children and young people – aged 0 to 25 – who have education health and care plans (EHCPs) in Hertfordshire.

That is, she says, a staggering 150 per cent higher than in January 2015 – and 11 per cent higher than last year (January 2021).

Yet Cllr Heritage tells the Secretary of State Hertfordshire has not been provided with sufficient funds – based on the need of the county.

She recognises an additional £5.8m that has been allocated for 2022/23.

But she says this “has not provided Hertfordshire with sufficient funds based on the need of the County”.

And she adds: “Despite these additional monies Hertfordshire still receives the 4th lowest SEND funding per head out of the 150 English local authorities, despite being one of the largest authorities in the country.”

In the letter, she explains that this is because a ‘significant portion’ of the so-called ‘High Needs formula’ is based on the spending of councils in a particular year, 2017/18.

This is not, she tells the Secretary of State, an indicator of the current needs of children and young people.

And, she says, it does not incentivise councils to actively manage their SEND budgets.

In addition, she says it “unfairly penalises” Hertfordshire, as the county’s 2017/18 spend is ‘particularly unrepresentative’.

This, she says, is because in 2017/18 the county council used High Needs funding “to invest in specialist provision”, which was not accounted for in the same way.

And she stresses the impact that this is having on children and young people in the county.

“We are aware that the DfE has indicated it will be moving away from the historic spending aspect of the formula, but the children and young people with special needs need to see this now as currently they are not receiving sufficient support,” she says

The council is, she says, forecasting a £4m overspend in its High Needs budget in 2023/24 – and a £10m overspend in 2024/5.

In addition she points to special schools reaching capacity – requiring urgent investment in additional places.

And she warns the Minister, “We have a perfect storm brewing.”

In response, a spokesperson for the Department for Education pointed to increasing high needs funding that is being made available.

But she told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that there was ‘more to be done’.

“We are increasing high needs funding every year, including a top-up to £9.1 billion in 2022-23, to help all councils and schools to improve existing provision for pupils with additional needs and to make sure specialist places are allocated to those who need them,” she said.

“But we know there’s more to be done.

“That’s why our upcoming SEND Review is looking to improve the system and make more consistent reform across education, health and care.”

According to the Department for Education, the SEND Review will look at ways to make sure the SEND system is consistent, high quality, financially sustainable and integrated across education, health and care – and to identify the reforms needed to secure lasting and tangible change.

The letter which was sent by Cllr Heritage was dated February 1.