City of York Council must make reforms to its special needs and disabilities (SEND) support in exchange for £17m to fill a budget black hole.
To clear its deficit by 2026, the council has agreed to cut the cost of home to school transport for SEND pupils and to increase the number of pupils who are integrated into mainstream schools rather than receiving separate specialist provision.
A 2019 Ofsted inspection of the council and local NHS’s SEND provision found “significant weaknesses” in the service.
To qualify for the Department of Education’s ‘safety valve’ funding for councils with large school budget deficits, York has agreed to deliver reforms.
If conditions are not met, DfE said it “will not hesitate to withhold payments”.
Labour opposition councillors described the payment as a bail-out. But Tony McArdle, chair of the SEND system leadership board, said the programme was not a ‘bail-out’ as it requires genuine reform and improvement to services.
York has seen a rise in the number of requests for SEND support in recent years and the government has acknowledged there are significant pressures on high needs budgets across the country.
What Labour says
York Labour’s education spokesperson, Coun Bob Webb, said: “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.”
Coun Webb said the council has “buried its head in the sand” over the deficit as it was “over £6m as long as two years ago”.
He added: “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.”
What the Lib Dems say
Coun Ian Cuthbertson, executive member for children, young people and education, said: “The flexibility this provides, along with additional funding support due later in the recovery period, will enable us to address our current issues as we work towards a long term sustainable solution.
“It will also help us accelerate our SEND partnership work with children and young people, health partners, education providers and the parent carer forum to support both the outcomes of last year’s inclusion review and the key actions set out in our written statement of action.”
He added: “This will ensure we can develop sufficient sustainable provision in York for children and young people with SEND and their families, now and in the future.”