Service improvements for children with special educational needs and disabilities
Oxfordshire County Council appeals to new Secretary of State for Education to address national funding crisis
Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) children are benefiting from service improvements provided by Oxfordshire County Council and its partners, despite major funding shortfalls from central government.
Today, the county council updated residents on how these plans are being rolled out. They are part of a package widely consulted on with partners. And with children, young people and their families.
Councillor Liz Brighouse, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Education and Youth Services, said: “We know that parents are really worried about support and education of their children, and that families are being affected because of government policies. We understand and share these concerns. We are doing everything in our power to deal with them.
“I am appealing to the new Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, to urgently address the national funding issues facing all local authorities providing SEND services for children and young people.
“Like all local authorities in England, we struggle to keep up with demand. This is because the government’s high needs grants don’t match our children’s needs.
“Moreover, the range of children and young people receiving SEND support was extended in 2014, but no extra money was made available to extend our own special provisions.
“Gillian Keegan must find the money to fund the total accumulated deficit in the budget for SEND children arising from unfunded changes the government itself introduced nearly ten years ago. At the end of March 2022, in Oxfordshire the deficit stood at £29.8m and is forecast to increase to £47.3m by March 2023.
“Despite these extremely difficult financial challenges, we recently developed, with our partners, the local area SEND strategy. We’re now working on implementation of plans with schools, health partners, voluntary organisations, parents and carers to provide more support for children with SEND.”
Principal changes, already implemented or in development include:
- More special school places. In addition to looking to expand existing special schools, new schools at Bloxham Grove and Faringdon are in development and the county council has submitted to the Department of Education bids for two further special free schools.
- A project to support the wellbeing and mental health of pupils and staff in schools, being piloted with 10 schools in the north of the county until summer term 2023.
- A SEND support helpdesk is being launched for schools. It will initially be for schools in north Oxfordshire, aimed at both experienced SEND coordinators and those new to role. The initial pilot will be evaluated and, if successful, offered county wide.
- A review of arrangements involving local schools, to ensure a smoother transition when children with special educational needs move schools, an experience they often find difficult. New practical guidance will focus initially on those moving from primary to secondary school. Similar steps will then be introduced to assist those in early years provision into primary school, and secondary school children into further education.
Councillor Brighouse added: “We want children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities to receive the very best support at the right time for them.
“All local authorities are experiencing a serious shortfall in government funding for the provision of their SEND services. It’s a national problem, not something that is specific to Oxfordshire.
“But we are determined, despite the challenges, to ensure that children and young people with SEND are able to access suitable education and to achieve their potential by being well prepared for a fulfilling, healthy adult life.”
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