Northamptonshire’s special schools are all full and the cost of educating high needs pupils out-of-county is likely to put the schools budget £3m in the red.
The local education authority, which is run by Northamptonshire County Council, is proposing to cut the service provided by its schools central team and also reduce the payments awarded to schools who apply for top-up high needs funding, in a bid to make the necessary savings to cover the rising cost of out-of-county high need placements.
The forward forecast is that the £9.1m budget allocated for placing children with high needs will instead be more like £11.6m.
This is because of the rising costs of placements coupled with an increasing number of children being placed in schools over the Northamptonshire border.
The cost of placing excluded pupils in alternative provision is also forecast to be £798,000 over the £3.3m budget because of the rising number of Northamptonshire children being told to leave their school.
The paper going before the Northamptonshire Schools Forum next week (Oct 24) says: “A significant overspend is now forecast as a result of the need to place pupils with SEND out of county, either cross-border maintained schools and academies or to independent special schools.
“However, while annual fee increases for existing placements have been kept low/few as possible, the cost of new placements has increased. The average cost per annum was about £41,000 in 2017/18 but is now about £48,000.
“In addition there was an increase to the overall number of new placements in 2018/19 (45 new in 2017/18 rising to 68 in 2018/19) which will have contributed to the budget pressure as these have become full year costs in the current financial year.
“New placements continue to rise – during April to Sept 2018/19 there were 34 but in 2019/20 there have been 44 for the same period.”
The Northamptonshire special needs budget accounts for £56.7m of the overall £215.4m schools budget. Because of the financial crisis at the county council it is very unlikely the council will be able to top up the schools budget, so services will have to be reduced elsewhere to accommodate the out-of-county costs.
Last month (September) the authority endorsed plans for a new special school in South Northants and is looking for a site to build it on. Central government has provided a capital grant of £4.7m to the authority to help with the costs.
Since 2014 the authority says it has created an additional 534 special schools places in the county and last September opened the Red Kite school in Corby.
It is the role of the education authority to plan for school places to make sure the county’s children can be educated close to home.
In recent years the county’s population has grown by 740,000. The population could increase even further if Northamptonshire takes on more homes allocations under the one million home Oxford-Cambridge Arc plan.
News of the special schools places problem comes after earlier news of a shortage of mainstream secondary school places in Corby and Northampton.