Cash-strapped Wigan schools will have to find even more money to fund specialist education amid surging demand – but council chiefs say it’s “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Special educational needs and disability (SEND) education across the UK will benefit from an extra £700m from the government next year, with Wigan expected to get £4.7m.
But headteachers of primary and secondary schools in the borough have been told the money will simply balance the books for a year, and that £750,000 will be cut from their budgets.
Cath Pealing, assistant director for education at Wigan council, told the borough’s school forum: “The extra money is not going to go far, it’s just plugging the gap.
“At the moment we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. It will take significantly more investment to change SEND provision, and we need to get fairer funding.”
The cost of delivering SEND education is putting ‘severe pressure’ on council budgets, with some authorities resorting to moving funds out of mainstream school budgets.
Authorities in Greater Manchester are expected to collectively overspend their high needs budgets by £76 million at the end of the year, despite £17m being cut from schools.
There are numerous costs to providing SEND education including independent placements, which have increased in number and cost in the current academic year.
Payments to maintained special schools in other local authorities stand at £365,000, with the cost of transport expected to see budgets overspend by £800,000.
The move to top-slice school budgets prompted concern from Alan Birchall, headteacher of Byrchall High School in Ashton-in-Makerfield.
“In mainstream schools we’ve had years and years of budget cuts and we have to find those cuts somewhere,” he said.
“It’s pressure all the time. There seems to be a perception that we’ve got this money.
“It seems the only way is through cutting staff. Now I wouldn’t cut a maths teacher but I would have to look at having a support teacher in that maths class.”
Andy McGlown, headteacher at Orrell St Peter’s RC High School, added: “If I look where I’m going to be next year I’ll have to cut a teaching assistant, and lose capacity.
“I will go below budget because I’m paying my share of this. It’s not an excuse, but it’s going to have an impact.”