City of York Council has agreed to a deal with the Conservative Government to make cutbacks to the council’s education department in order to tackle one of the biggest per head budget deficits in the country.
The deal sees the council signing up to a raft of changes, including cutting the budget for home to school transport for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and reforming education provision to ensure many more pupils are integrated into mainstream school settings rather than receiving separate specialist provision.
Labour’s education spokesperson, Cllr Bob Webb, said the deal will have major implications for the education of many of York’s most vulnerable pupils. He comments:
“This is effectively a special measures intervention by the Government because it sees York, and some other councils, as having budget deficits in schools funding that have spiralled out of control. What this means is that changes that may have been required over a longer period will have to be introduced much more quickly.
“At the local level our concern is that those changes will now just be forced through without adequate consideration of the impact on school pupils across the city, and that the necessary measures that need to accompany such changes, such as greater specialist support within schools, will come too late for many children, young people and their families.
“The High Needs budget (for SEND support) deficit was over £6m as long as two years ago and the council appears to have buried its head in the sand for far too long over a problem that the Government was never going to ignore forever. Unfortunately now we have the Government imposing decisions on City of York Council because this Lib Dem-led council has chosen not to take them here in York”.
The Government predicts that overall, the council’s Dedicated School Grant (DSG) budget deficit will be in excess of £17m by 2025, and it is this figure the Government will provide to the council in exchange for imposing reforms that will cut costs in the future.
These include ‘appropriate and timely ceasing’ of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) – plans drawn up to support pupils with specific special educational, or social or emotional, needs.
An Ofsted inspection in 2019 said that EHCPs in York were variable in quality, and that services were not commissioned jointly in a way that is responsive to children, young people and families’ needs. It was also critical of other aspects of SEND support in York.
“These pupils’ needs don’t vary depending on how much budget is available, and must still be met in full”, added Cllr Webb.
“Our concern locally must be about ensuring every pupil’s education needs are catered for through an appropriate education setting. Every child matters and with whatever changes are coming down the road, the council now needs to be open and honest, and communicate with the public over those changes. It doesn’t help that that council has said nothing publicly about this deal since it was agreed several days ago”.
The money is also expected to help the council address weaknesses in its SEND support identified through its 2019 Ofsted inspection.
Those same services are expected to feature in the full Ofsted inspection report of Children’s services in York when it is published in the coming weeks. The last three Ofsted inspections have delivered critical judgments on York’s effectiveness in supporting children, including those most at risk of harm.