The amount spent on special educational needs in Essex is estimated to be twice what it was thought to cost just two years ago.
In May 2018, Essex County Council’s cabinet reimplemented the system by which individual packages of educational support, such as tuition or vocational training, are made available to children and young people living in Essex who have been permanently excluded or who, due to illness or other reasons, are unable to receive suitable education.
The system, which has a four-year term and commenced in April 2019, was estimated to cost £6.8million based on services for approximately 700 pupils at the time.
In its first year (2019/20), the framework supported 577 pupils at a cost of £5million for year one – an increase of 180 per cent in the number of pupils requiring the provision of alternative education from 2018/2019.
This unexpected demand for services from the framework has exceeded forecasts and, based on current demand, the council’s use of the framework will be £13.2million for the remainder of the framework term, until it expires in 2023.
This estimated increase does not take into account the potential impact of Covid-19 on the number of pupils requiring the provision of alternative education, or any requirements for services from other contracting authorities.
A statement to cabinet said: “It is anticipated that this level of need and demand for services from the framework is likely to continue until ECC’s SEN and PRU (pupil referral unit) capital programmes delivers the necessary increased capacity in the Essex special schools and pupil referral units.
“The need for an increase in capacity has led to a programme for delivery of four new special free schools for autism and social, emotional and mental health (the two areas of need driving the greatest demand and capacity deficit) and the development of a PRU estate which is fit for purpose. ECC are in discussion with the Department for Education regarding the construction of these schools and the target date for delivery is 2023.
“Essex has seen a 62.9 per cent increase in the numbers of pupils entering PRUs since 2018. This is more than double the increase across the eastern region and England and will be one of the key drivers for the project linked to students who are not in full time education.”
At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, September 15, Councillor Mike Mackrory, leader of the Lib Dem group, said he was worried by a statement in the report that the estimated increase does not take into account the potential impact of Covid-19 on the number of pupils requiring provision of alternative education or any requirements for services from other contracting authorities.
“What are the plans to take into account of what is certainly expected?” he asked.
Cabinet member Ray Gooding said: “Unfortunately Cllr Mckrory is not comparing like for like here.
“This paper is about the increase in the number of children diagnosed with special educational needs who need additional provision.
“Clearly Covid is not necessarily part of that diagnosis and would be funded and managed in a slightly different manner.
“The children with special educational needs are the ones we are looking at supporting and not necessarily with any impact from Covid.
“The two are not necessarily related.”