North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for education Councillor Patrick Mulligan said balancing the needs of cash-strapped schools and the county’s most vulnerable students left the education authority facing a “lose-lose situation”.
Cllr Mulligan was speaking after the council revealed it was pressing the Education Secretary for permission to transfer £3.2m from mainstream schools to pay for the rapidly rising number of high needs pupils.
He said the council had issued the financial appeal despite school leaders saying they could not cope with the loss of income after having agreed to take a 0.5 per cent cut in their budgets for the second year running.
Cllr Mulligan said: “I can see why the schools are opposing this. A lot of them are already having financial challenges. I’m not happy about taking money – it does have a material impact on mainstream schools.”
The authority is expecting a decision by the Department of Education on how much money it will be allowed to move from primary and secondary schools to help plug a projected £5.7m overspend on high needs pupils.
The education boss said while the number of children and young people classed as having special educational needs and disabilities had soared as a result of sweeping reforms in the 2014 Children and Families Act, funding from the Government had fallen behind.
The Act replaced statements with Education, Health and Care Plans and extended the right to provision from age 19 to 25, with families at the heart of decision-making.
In November, the Local Government Association warned of the national funding gap in high needs pupils budgets more than doubling this year to £536m as a result of growing demand.
The North Yorkshire authority says the financial crisis is being particularly keenly felt due to higher costs associated with rurality.
Cllr Mulligan said: “It is affecting all the schools. The problem is we are not getting the right amount of funding for high needs, so we are having to top slice mainstream schools budgets. It is a very delicate situation, we are talking about vulnerable people who need our help. In a way it is a lose-lose situation for the council.”
He said the council had no option but to address the high needs budget shortfall.