My colleagues and I are supporting the campaign to get more resources directed into Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) budgets.
On Thursday, 30th May, parent groups around the country are to holding a coordinated protest march in 25 locations, including Bristol, over the current ‘crisis’ in SEND provision. Campaigners here plan to meet outside City Hall on College Green from 2.00 pm – 5.00 pm.
Last year, the Labour Mayor was forced to reverse £5million of planned savings in its High Needs Block budget following a High Court ruling that such a move - taken without proper consultation - was unlawful.
My colleagues and I have penned a formal request to the Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, urging him to secure extra SEN funding in this year’s Government Spending Review.
We are conscious that more money than ever before (£6.3 billion in 2019/20) is going towards supporting children and young people with challenging physical and psychological conditions.
However, a combination of factors, including an increase in the numbers on education, health and care (EHC) plans or statements, the diagnoses of more difficult or complex conditions and raising the eligibility age range to 25, means that these resources just can’t keep pace with the growing demand.
Whilst the local authority has a duty to make sure no child is left behind in terms of providing them with opportunity to reach their full potential, it also has to see to it that this support genuinely provides value-for-money.
Cllr Claire Hiscott (Horfield) who chaired a scrutiny SEND Task & Finish Group added: “One additional aspect explaining the extra burden being placed on Bristol around this issue, which was previously raised with the Schools Minister Nick Gibb but worth repeating, is the fact that our city is the location of the region’s principal Children’s Hospital.
“This understandably makes it an attractive place for families to relocate here in order to access care for children with SEND conditions.”
The third signatory Cllr Graham Morris (Stockwood) concluded by saying: “Whilst most people accept that in the real world all budgets have to be contained, there is a strong case for ring-fencing SEND funding.
“It is vital that any real short-fall in support for these vital and valued services is addressed in the next Whitehall Departmental Spending Review to enable all children to get the kind of education they are entitled to and deserve.”
Please find below copy of joint letter sent to the Secretary of State for Education
Dear Secretary of State
We write to you on the eve of an important event about to be staged in Bristol – as part of a national campaign coordinated across 25 cities – the SEND Crisis March to be held on Thursday, 30th May 2019.
The stated aims of this protest is to reform the current legal framework and delivery system (including adequate funding provision) to provide children and young people with these protected characteristics and conditions with a fair and equal access to a decent education.
The Conservative Group on Bristol City Council has a great deal of sympathy with this cause. In Bristol, the current Labour Mayor and his Administration recently had to reverse planned savings of £5million to its High Needs Block budget due to an embarrassing High Court ruling that this move was unlawful.
Following this episode, Bristol City Council is in the process of implementing a Transformational Plan, which includes the greater involvement of Opposition members through scrutiny to monitor how education services are meeting the commitment to ensure that ‘no child is left behind.’
Educational attainment or outcomes for SEND children in our city is poor and according to the Corporate Plan: ‘Achievement gaps for disadvantaged children in the city are unacceptably high and are widening.’ One additional factor made to the Schools Minister Nick Gibb is the fact that hosting the major children’s hospital in the region acts as a magnet for a disproportionate number of families moving into the city with high needs children. This situation is placing an extra burden on our schools budgets which remains to be addressed around future funding.
We acknowledge that the Timpson Review with its recommendations around greater accountability and transparency for exclusions and a crackdown on ‘off-rolling’ is a step in the right direction. This is a necessary but not sufficient reform. There still appears to be some disparity over the appropriate level of SEND funding in our mainstream schools.
Despite an increase in high needs allocation to £6.3 billion this year, parent groups maintain that this is not adequate ‘in real terms’ to match the growing demand. Moreover, there seems to be cases of increasing complexity in the physiological and psychological conditions presented. Whilst we recognise education budgets cannot be unlimited, there is a strong case for SEND funding to be ring-fenced.
The new Spending Review this year will provide Government with an opportunity to reset its priorities and Departmental Budgets. We therefore urge you to apply pressure to the Treasury to ensure that the provision for SEND spending is increased and addresses the concerns of all those parents currently struggling to ensure their children get the standard of education to which they are entitled and deserve.
Councillor Mark Weston, Conservative Leader
Councillor Claire Hiscott, Conservative Chair of SEND Task & Finish Group
Councillor Graham Morris, Conservative Member and father of twins with sensory or development disorders