‘Depressing picture’ for higher needs services in West Northamptonshire as 'funding doesn't match inflationary pressures'

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WNC is due to receive the minimum level of uplift in High Needs Block funding and demand is becoming "increasingly difficult" to manage

West Northamptonshire’s higher needs education services are becoming “increasingly difficult” to manage, according to the council.

The provisional funding for the sector in 2024-25 is set to increase by £2.1 million for the area, which translates to a 3.2 percent increase for higher needs education, which puts West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) in the bottom quartile nationally in terms of funding per pupil received.

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The council are already forecasting a £1.6 million overspend in the sector for this year, which is due to a rise in demand for out-of-county placements and provision for pupils with special education needs (SEND). The cost of placements has also increased from an annual average of £50,000 to £55,000 as a result of inflation.

The Schools Forum meeting was held at the Forum, Towcester.The Schools Forum meeting was held at the Forum, Towcester.
The Schools Forum meeting was held at the Forum, Towcester.

Paul Wheeler, member of the Schools Forum, said at the meeting on on Wednesday, October 18: “It’s a very depressing picture. The amount of money we will get next year for higher needs may or may not cover the deficit that we have for this year, and then of course costs will go up. The increases we get just simply won’t cover the inflationary pressures.”

In the first quarter of this year, WNC received 284 requests for Education and Health Care Plans (EHCP) – a document which describes a young person’s special educational needs. The national timeframe for these plans to be completed is 20 weeks. However, only 7.8 percent of these were filed within this time.

Additional places within the Educational Psychology (EP) team are being commissioned on a fixed-term basis to provide the EHCP assessments needed to improve performance. Addressing the backlog will lead to an increase in placements and a further rise in the costs of the service.

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Ben Pearson, the assistant director of education, said: “The impact of lockdown on our children has not gone away. What we are seeing is more requests for additional support and the severity of their needs is increasing as well.

“Those additional EPs that are coming will really help us accelerate the timeliness and the speed of our assessment but we’ve got to collectively do more about meeting needs at the earliest possible time.”

There are set to be 600 additional SEND spaces across West Northamptonshire by September 2025, with WNC launching a new specialist education strategy just last month. However, there are also issues around under-identification in primary schools, with West Northamptonshire spotting 1.5 percent fewer children with additional needs than compared to national levels.

Mr Pearson said that the council were aware of a “pinch point” of increased assessment requests for year six children, and said that they have to “get better collectively at providing the skills and the tools of identifying things early”.

The council are to write to the Department of Education to express their concerns with the lack of funding in West Northamptonshire.