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Special needs funding cut for summer term as council claws back massive overspend.

Photo: Sam Sauders/Flickr

Schools in Bristol are implementing sudden cuts this term to special educational needs (SEN) departments, after the council ordered a clawing back of spending to rectify deficits caused by significant overspending.

The ‘high needs’ block of the Dedicated Schools Grant is targeted after increasing by £5.57m from 2014/15 – 2015/16 in Bristol. The massive growth in spending has been due to higher pupil numbers, more referrals, a dramatic increase in permanent exclusions in recent years and a change in bandings.

The £3.118m overspend this academic year has been so high that desperate measures were introduced for the April to September period, to avoid deficits being carried over to next year.

Some schools are now reducing the hours of their learning support staff, who assist pupils with SEN. Pupils who already have extra help secured will keep it, but the budget cuts will stop further children being allocated. This term no new pupils can reach the ‘top up panel’, where extra funding is allocated to schools for pupils whose needs surpass the school’s learning support budget.

Heads had only a week to implement the changes, leading to questions over the management of schools funding and why the £3.118m hole was not dealt with until now.

One special needs worker, who wished to remain anonymous, commented:

“They must have know about this all along – or are so disorganised that they didn’t”.

Minutes from the last Bristol Schools Forum meeting, where the council consults on budgeting matters with school heads and governors, show concerns about the move. As it comprises a larger proportion of their funding, primaries will be hit hardest. There were also claims that the uncertainty of funding for next year prevented proper planning.

More changes will take place before September to reconcile the budget going forward.

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