West Berkshire’s executive member for education Lynne Doherty (Con, Northcroft)
SCHOOL services for vulnerable pupils are once again set to be slashed as West Berkshire Council battles to bring its high-needs budget under control.
The council has said the number of pupils with special educational needs has continued to increase, while Government funding for such places has remained largely constant, leading to an anticipated shortfall of just under £1m in 2018/19.
In an effort to save money and bring spending back in line, education chiefs have now drawn up a list of services that could be cut next year.
The move comes after the West Berkshire Schools Forum resolved to set a deficit budget for 2017/18 and was asked to approve a cuts package of around £220,000, in the hope of bringing the budget under control.
Speaking at a meeting of the Schools Forum on Monday, the council’s head of education, Ian Pearson, said the funding pressures had been identified early on and the deficit budget had been set in the hope that curbing spending could balance the high-needs block budget over a two-year period.
However, Mr Pearson said: “Moving forward the pressures in the coming year and particular pressures in coming years suggest this plan is no longer valid and that this deficit position is going to continue and grow substantially, unless we do something and bring costs down.”
The proposed cuts will coincide with a ‘root and branch’ review of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) services to determine what can be done differently to bring expenditure down without diminishing provision.
West Berkshire’s executive member for education Lynne Doherty (Con, Northcroft) (pictured) said the decision to make further cuts was ‘unpalatable’, but action must be taken now, given the ever-increasing funding shortfall.
She also said the council had been working with the Local Government Association to highlight the issue of funding.
She added: “We understand that this is a national issue and West Berkshire is not alone in facing a deficit budget for their high-needs education.
“We acknowledge the potential negative impact the proposed budget savings could have on those that need these services and therefore we intend to lobby our local MPs and the Local Government Association to highlight this issue with central Government.”
Funding is allocated to West Berkshire based on the number of SEND pupils. However, education chiefs say the funding allocation is based on outdated figures.
According to council figures, West Berkshire currently has 736 pupils in specialist provision, but are only funded for 675, a shortfall of 71 unfunded places
And while the number of SEND pupils has increased by 14 per cent since 2014, so has the complexity of support required, adding to rising costs.
A decision on exactly which services will face funding cuts will be made at the next Schools Forum meeting in March.