Significant Deficit in Borough's SEN Budget Continues to Grow

Headteacher says it would be immoral to make future pupils go without

Significant Deficit in Borough's SEN Budget Continues to Grow
Picture: National Deaf Children's Society

Schools in Hammersmith and Fulham are in increasingly desperate need of funding to help children with special-education needs (SEN).

At a Schools Forum meeting on Tuesday, June 17, it was revealed that the borough has an accumulated “high needs” budget deficit of £19 million.

This compares with an accumulated deficit of £13.9 million in 2018/19.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council uses its annual high needs budget to help local schools pay for extra staff and resources, that help children with SEN issues such as autism, dyslexia or who have experienced trauma.

Hammersmith Academy head teacher Gary Kynaston, who chairs the Schools Forum meetings, said it would be “immoral” to make future generations of children have to go with fewer resources due to current financial problems.

“The critical issue here… is ultimately with the significant deficit in the HNB [high needs block] we can’t have future cohorts paying for past spend. That would be completely immoral. So there’s a real need for challenge, and increasingly a more difficult challenge to bring HNB into a break-even position,” Mr Kynaston said.

Gary Kynaston
Gary Kynaston. Picture: Hammersmith Academy

Part of the reason why the deficit is so high is because the number of children who need SEN support is increasing every year. However, schools receive funding based on census data from previous years, and which might not reflect current demand.

This financial year, it is uncertain whether the council will break even on its high needs budget, despite getting a 13 per cent increase of funding (up to £24.8 million) from the Department for Education.

Tuesday’s meeting also heard that other London councils are experiencing similar funding problems.

Tony Burton, the head of finance at Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s children’s services department, said: “Our deficit is very significant..

“At £19 million it’s getting close to the value of the annual allocation in the HNB per annum. It’s a very significant deficit position although it’s growing at a slow rate.”

Mr Burton added: “Even with a £500,000 underspend, if that was possible, it would take 40 years to pay off that deficit. I just give you that figure to highlight the scale of the challenge.”

The meeting also heard that the council had asked the Department for Education for permission to transfer an extra £476,000 from its general schools-funding budget over to its high-needs budget. But this was turned down.

Mr Kynaston said this refusal would have a “significant impact” on helping them break even by the end of 2020/21.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Supporting children with high needs is a priority for this Government, which is why we are working with local authorities to make sure all children across the country get the education they deserve.

“We have made a significant increase in high needs funding for 2020 to 2021 in Hammersmith and Fulham, with funding rising by £2.9 million. We will continue to work with the council to bring their deficits back into balance.”

Owen Sheppard - Local Democracy Reporter

June 18, 2020