FUNDING for high needs school students in Northumberland is facing a £4 million overspend with savings desperately needed.

Northumberland County Council officers and members of the local authority’s schools forum are set to visit schools up and down the county to discuss ideas for possible savings with reserve funding set to run out next month.

Education bosses did point out that other local authorities had already reached this point in previous years, while acknowledging it was “new” for Northumberland.

Mainstream schools in the county had already agreed to transfer 0.5 per cent of the total funding for schools in Northumberland to the high needs block in order to boost funds.

However, the council is still facing a shortfall as the number of children with additional needs continues to rise.

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Speaking at this month’s meeting of the Schools Forum, education and skills business manager Bruce Parvin said: “High needs reserve funding will be exhausted and we are going to go overdrawn on that by the end of March 2024.

“Essentially, when we have looked at the current demands on the high needs block we have identified a savings requirement of £4 million. It’s a significant savings requirement – the stark problem is there is just not enough at the moment.”

Data from Northumberland County Council showed that the number of children requiring an education and healthcare plan (EHCP) rose from 1,679 in 2017 to 3,369 in 2023 – an increase of 100.6 per cent in just six years. The issue is one that is reflected nationally – since 2015 the number of children and young people with an EHCP has increased by 97 per cent across the country.

Director of education, SEND and skills at the county council David Street added: “For us as Northumberland, actually seeing the high needs block come to the end of its capacity is not a shock to us because we’re aware of what is happening on the ground, but it is relatively new to us.

“Other local authorities have well overstepped their spending three or four years ago and continue to run in deficits. The team have been on top of the high needs block and there has been some fantastic efficiencies right across the board to make the funding we have got go even further.

“We’re doing more than ever before but we have just got to a point where the demand is pushing beyond the current capacity. We’re still doing much better than most other local authorities, but clearly there is still some work to do.”

Mr Street also praised other schools in the area for their response to the consultation on the transfer of 0.5 per cent of the schools funding.

He continued: “Schools have recognised the position and are saying we would be happy to have less so the size of the cake is a little bit greater for those children with high needs. Many of the responses were offering to have less money to benefit the greater good and that should be commended.

“They could have just said no to everything – that would have been understandable, none of the schools in Northumberland have lots of spare cash, but they were still happy to commit to some of the funding that they would have got.”

The council’s head of school organisation and resources, Sue Aviston, explained how the problem would be tackled.

She said: “A further, more detailed report will come back in the summer following more detailed consultation with all schools in Northumberland. This is around making sure all schools are aware of the pressures we’re going to be facing in the future.

“We will take the information from the initial consultation to develop a wider consultation in terms of looking at options and ideas. We’re going to ask schools forum members to join officers out on the road setting up interactive workshops with schools to fully explain the options and ideas around delivering a more balanced high needs block.”