Time frame for special needs school in Havering slips again due to budget shortfall

Plans to build a “desperately needed” school for children with special needs in Havering have “slipped” as the council faces a budget gap of millions.

At a meeting of the Schools Funding Forum today (September 17), Havering’s strategic finance manager revealed there was a predicted overspend of £2.7 million on schools this year.

This is partly due to an increasing number of children who require expensive special needs education, as well as a £1.1 million deficit left over from last year.

The Department for Education expects any council overspending more than one per cent of its schools funding to submit a plan for how it will rebalance the budget within three years.

Caroline Penfold, head of childrens and adults disability service, said: “It’s a shame, we do desperately need that special school.

“The time frame for it has slipped again. It’s not looking like we will get that before 2022.”

The school, which would have been the fourth of its kind in the borough, was planned to open on the site of St Edward’s Church of England Academy on London Road in 2022.

Cabinet approved plans for the school, which would have taught 60 pupils from age three to 16, on April 17 last year. Construction was expected to cost around £8.5 million.

Speaking in April last year, cabinet member for education, children and families Cllr Robert Benham said the new school would “take the pressure off” the existing three and “significantly reduce the cost of sending pupils to schools outside the borough”.

The council currently spends £3.3 million sending special needs students to schools outside the borough, a figure Campion headteacher Keith Williams said was “extremely worrying”.

Ms Penfold said the council was responding to its budget gap by “drilling down into” some of the more costly services for children with special educational needs.

She said: “We have been taking a bit more proactive action, highlighting some of the areas we are spending significant amounts of money on.

“That does not mean we are not going to provide (those services) but we want to understand what we are getting for that money, with an emphasis on effectiveness and value for money.”

Strategic finance manager David Allen reassured the forum that the borough’s projected overspend was “much, much lower than other boroughs” in London.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter