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Suffolk's special education services underfunded by more than £2.1 million, new data says

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Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (8835178)
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (8835178)

Suffolk’s special educational needs and disability services have been underfunded by more than £2.1 million, according to new data.

Figures published by the National Executive Union this week suggested that 93 per cent of all education authorities in the country had lost out on special education needs and disability services (SEND) cash – with Suffolk short by £2.1m since 2015 according to the figures.

Campaigners have warned it is the families being hit hardest.

Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said: “The failure to adequately increase funding for children with special needs is having dire consequences here in Suffolk.

“You cannot keep trying to provide this vital support on the cheap without there being consequences. However, these figures do not absolve Suffolk County Council of their woeful record on SEND.

“Their indifference to SEND services, in addition to these funding shortfalls, has driven children, their parents and our schools to crisis.

“Yes, their recent commitment to delivering new special school places is welcome, but this is a reactionary move and will not address the multitude of problems that exist.

“We urgently need the Tories in Whitehall to make up this funding shortfall, but if their colleagues locally are unable to deliver a fundamental change, then I fear the current situation will get even worse.”

Last year a cabinet paper presented to Suffolk County Council revealed it was facing an 18 per cent increase in demand for SEND places.

It prompted a task force to be formed which came back with a £45m plan to create 828 new specialist places at both new and existing schools.

Conservative cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, Gordon Jones, said the F40 group of the country’s 40 lowest-funded authorities is set to meet with MPs next month.

“Every local authority is under pressure with their high needs, absolutely,” he said.

“The government recognises the issue and have put in a little bit of extra funding. They can never put in enough but have recognised there is a gap between what is there and what is needed.”

Mr Jones said the increasing demand for specialist places had put pressure on funding and hoped the comprehensive spending review due this autumn would provide a fairer framework for cash.

The data comes just weeks after a re-inspection of Suffolk’s SEND services by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission found more work was needed to improve performance.

The Department for Education has defended its approach to funding.

Nadhim Zahawi, minister for children and families, said: “We have increased spending on high needs from £5billion in 2013 to £6.3bn this year and it is not right to imply funding has been cut.

“We recognise the challenges facing local authorities and in December provided an extra £250m up to 2020 to help them manage high needs cost pressures.

“We have also provided councils with an extra £100m funding to create more SEND places in mainstream schools, colleges and special schools.

“Our ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities is exactly the same for every other child – to achieve well in education, go on to college or university, and to live happy and fulfilled lives.”