Cash windfall staves off further cuts to special schools in Portsmouth – for the moment

Picture posed by models Picture: PA Photo/Thinkstockphotos
Picture posed by models Picture: PA Photo/Thinkstockphotos

A FUNDING boost of more than £400,000 for students in Portsmouth has stalled cuts to special needs schools for the time being.

It was announced in December last year that a £250m government hand-out would tackle deficits in high needs education across the country in the next two years.

As a result Portsmouth schools and academies will benefit from an extra £464,000 in both the 2018-2019 and 2019 -2020 financial years for SEND pupils.

The cash will be used to plug the city's £400,000 shortfall for SEND education in 2018-2019. Originally the council had intended to partly cover this by cutting funding to special needs schools by one per cent per pupil and using the money for SEND services in mainstream schools.

But with the unexpected windfall it is now planned that funds to special needs schools will not be cut, and they will instead receive around £60,000 of the grant. Mainstream schools will see an increase of 0.5 per cent in funds per SEND pupil compared to last year.

The council's head of education, Councillor Suzy Horton, said: 'One of the biggest issues in education is special needs. The numbers of SEND students are going up every year, while government funding is going down.

'Last year we came to an agreement to increase money for SEND students going to mainstream schools, and this meant that the special needs schools would lose out on a little bit of money.

'Then in December the government said that there was a national crisis surrounding special needs education and said here's some extra money.

'The question was do we take that money but still reduce funding to special schools or do we do we take some of it for special schools and give them essentially a year's grace?'

Members of Portsmouth's schools forum agreed that funding special schools in the city was a priority.

Speaking at a schools forum Ian Hunkin, head of special needs school The Harbour School, said: 'I have had about 10 per cent taken from my budget.

'So if we shave off too much from special schools we won't be able to keep up the good standards that we have at the moment. We want to be able to meet the needs of all the children, that is the most important thing.'

But it was acknowledged that cuts would be likely after 2020.

Cllr Horton added: 'It's nice to receive some money but I don't want to oversell it. It gets us out of a situation this year. But looking at projections going forward it is not going to be easy.'

The council allocates £10,000 each year for each special needs student out the budget it gets from the government . Then each pupil is allocated a top-up ranging from £9,600 to £20,182.