At a meeting of the full council (18th September 2019), Tower Hamlets Council overwhelmingly passed a motion criticising the government over its record on special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) services. The government’s funding for these services has failed to keep pace with rapidly rising demand, leaving local councils across the UK to pick up the bill.

Last year Tower Hamlets received £49.7m from the Government for SEND funding, but it spent more than £56m on services. The motion agreed by councillors highlights the impact that this is having on some of the most vulnerable children and young people in our society.

The Mayor and Councillors welcomed the recent government pledge – £700m for children with SEND – but said the announcement doesn’t go far enough and won’t completely fill the gaps. The Local Government Association itself estimates that the SEND funding gap will be £1.6bn by 2021, well over double what the government has pledged.

Councillor Danny Hassell, who introduced the council motion, recently led a cross-party letter from 26 London boroughs to the Education Secretary calling for an end to the funding crisis in SEND services. The letter warned that ‘we have now reached a tipping point’ as a massive cash shortfall grips special needs services across the country.

The Government announced earlier this month that it was launching a review into support for children with special educational needs.

Councillor Danny Hassell, Cabinet Member for Children, Schools and Young People, said: “The SEND funding crisis has really serious implications for some of the most vulnerable children and young people in our society. They need and deserve support services that are properly funded.

“The funding announcement from the government is very welcome, but we need them to go further and ensure that the funding gap is completely filled.”

Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “With around 8,000 children and young people in Tower Hamlets who have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities or who are attending alternative provision, our borough is on the frontline of the high needs funding crisis. Whilst we welcome extra cash from the government for SEND services, we need a much larger investment with solid details rather than the vague pre-election spending pledges that the government has at present.”

 

Motion as agreed by Tower Hamlets Council:

Administration motion regarding the SEND funding crisis

Proposer: Councillor Danny Hassell

Seconder: Mayor John Biggs

This Council notes: 

  1. There are around 8,000 children and young people in Tower Hamlets who have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) or are attending alternative provision. 3,000 children and young people have an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP);
  2. Demand for SEND services is increasing rapidly and services are also responding to more complex needs. Over the period 2016/17 to 2018/19 we saw a 48% increase in the number of children with an EHCP;
  3. Last year Tower Hamlets received £49.7m from the Government for SEND funding, but it spent more than £56m on services;
  4. The funding from Government has failed to keep pace with rapidly increasing costs, leaving big gaps in budgets;
  5. This crisis is replicated across London, where the total in-year shortfall for 2017/18 across SEND services came to £77 million and the cumulative overspend on the high needs block is higher in London than in any other region;
  6. Analysis from the National Education Union shows that had funding kept pace with rising numbers and increased in line with inflation, the budget gap would almost be eliminated. However as things stand, the Local Government Association estimates that councils in England face a SEND funding gap of up to £1.6 billion by 2021;
  7. The council has responded to the Government’s ‘call for evidence’ on high needs funding and the Mayor and Cabinet Member have written directly to the Prime Minister on this issue.
  8. That Tower Hamlets Council organised a cross-party letter from council cabinet members across London with responsibility for children’s services to the Secretary of State for Education calling for an end to the funding crisis in SEND services.
  9. The recent announcement from the Government pledging additional funding for schools, including £700m for children with SEND.

This Council believes:

  1. We face a national crisis in high needs funding, but this crisis is hitting London harder than anywhere else in the country;
  2. We have now reached a tipping point: whilst in previous years many councils have been able to meet the gap from reserves or underspending on other education budgets, as other education budgets tighten this is no longer an option. Deficits will now become cumulative, rolling over into the next year and the pressure on high needs funding will rise exponentially;
  3. The Government is failing to fund SEND services properly and it’s falling to local councils to plug the gaps;
  4. That while the additional £700m is very welcome, it doesn’t even cover the gap we already face now, nor will it fill the SEND funding gap estimated by the LGA at £1.6bn by 2021.
  5. Children and young people with special needs and disabilities are some of the most vulnerable in our society and it’s vital that the services that support them are funded fairly and properly;
  6. Funding cuts to general school budgets are threatening the ability of our local schools to maintain their levels of quality, inclusive education.

 This Council resolves:

  1. To call on the Government to urgently invest in our SEND services and ensure that Government funding keeps pace with rising demand, complexity of need and additional responsibilities;
  2. To call on the Mayor and Cabinet Member to write to the Secretary of State for Education with a copy of this motion, welcoming the additional funding, but urging him to invest further to bring an end to the SEND funding crisis;
  3. To continue to work with school leaders, trade unions and parents to campaign against schools cuts.
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