SERVICES which help children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities ‘will be different’ to reduce financial pressures.

At a Royal Borough schools forum meeting on September 22 (Tuesday), officers said they will look into cutting back or prioritising services funded by the High Needs Block to address this year’s deficit.

The current budget for the High Needs Block is nearly £19.8 million while officers predict there will be a £810,000 overspend in the year-in budget.

Kevin McDaniels, director of achieving for children – commissioned to deliver children services on behalf of the council – said this is in order to create a balanced budget for 2021/22.

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The high needs funding is an intended support package for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities as well as pupils in alternative provisions such as those permanently excluded from school.

Officers will look into services such as a ‘virtual school’ for children in the service’s care, specialist teaching support, a behaviour support service, provision of education to excluded children, the wellbeing service which is an early mental health service, and more.

In the report, some of those services listed are non-statutory duties, such as the wellbeing service, but Mr McDaniels said they won’t ‘discriminate’ when reviewing the non-statutory projects as some have made a ‘fundamental’ difference to some children.

Those that are statutory will be looked at in terms of how much is spent on it and if there are any other cost effective ways in delivering it.

Some of those services were included in a three year pilot – which is due to end this year – where additional funding was received from the council and health partners to ‘innovate’ and ‘improve’ the quality of support for students – particularly those who need a special educational needs co-ordinator.

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Kevin McDaniels said: “We need to ask the question about whether or not we should continue with some of those things that have made a difference or whether we shouldn’t.”

Within the report, it states the overspend in the high needs services ‘remains unaffordable’ where local partners will have to work to bring that cost back in line with the government’s grant allocation.

Mr McDaniels added: “The structure of the high needs expenditure from April 2021 will be different than we had historically for a significant number of years for the reasons set out in the report.”

No decision is yet set in stone as feedback will be gathered from partners, such as head teachers, for officers to draft a proposal for the 2021/22 high needs block budget.

The proposal will be sent to all head teachers in the Royal Borough for consultation.