Havering schools count the cost of special needs inclusion

Havering schools that accept children with special needs are finding “inclusion does not pay”, the Havering Schools Funding Forum heard today.

The council’s budget for schools began this financial year with a £1.6 million deficit, despite underspending in many areas, due to a £4.6 million overspend on children with special needs.

At a forum meeting this morning, council officers said they were lobbying the Department of Education to increase funding and prevent money troubles becoming “a barrier to inclusion”.

A total of 11 Havering schools have budget gaps and one headteacher suggested there was a correlation between these gaps and the number of special needs children they teach.

The council’s assistant director for education services, Trevor Cook, said the situation was “likely to get worse before it gets better”.

He added: “We are not looking to radically reduce our spending, what we do need to do is make sure our spending is in the right areas and at the right level.

“For many of our schools, inclusion does not pay. We need to challenge those schools that we think need to do a bit more.”

Responding to a comment that financial pressure “is becoming or possibly could become” a barrier to accepting special needs children, St Edward’s Primary headteacher Chris Speller said that he believes it already is.

He told the forum: “I would be interested to see the number of schools unable to set a balanced budget and whether those schools have high numbers of (special needs) children, I think there’s a correlation.”

Suttons Primary School headteacher David Unwin-Bailey agreed, noting that the lack of funding to support his school’s pupils with special needs “takes away money” from other children.

He said that, even with only 17 special needs students, he was “forever looking at money” and that the school, while not in deficit, was “close to it”.

Hayley McClenaghan, headteacher of Crowlands Primary School and Newtons Primary School, added that, while she would not “say no to a child due to funding”, she had noticed school governors becoming increasingly concerned about the attached cost.

Havering Council plans to give five schools almost £2 million to educate 208 children with special needs this financial year.

Of this figure, more than £1.5 million will go to Corbets Tey School, a special school in Upminster with more than 150 pupils ranging from four to 19 years old.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter