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Essex Council reveal overspend on Special Education Need school transport

Education: Secondary / Tue 24th Jul 2018 at 12:35pm

By Local Democracy Reporter

Piers Meyler

ESSEX County Council has said it will be reviewing its school transport scheme – including its provision for Special Education Need children – after overspending by £3.1 million even though the policy had predicted savings of almost £4 million.

Councillor Ray Gooding, cabinet member for education, has said an “exponential” increase in the number of children qualifying for free transport under special educational needs criteria is to blame for the budget gap.

It comes two weeks after Essex County Council rejected calls to fund special bus services in the wake of its new transport policy forcing parents to pay out hundreds of pounds to get their children to school.

Essex Council County has steadfastly refused to change the rule that only allows free transport to a child’s nearest school – instead of to any catchment school – for children aged eight to 16 who live over three miles away or for under eights who live more than two miles away.

The council says the policy – introduced in 2015 – is necessary to save a predicted £3.7 million in four years.

But campaigners say worried parents are forced to pay hundreds of pounds for commissioned school services.

However it has now been revealed the council has overspent by £3.1 million – a budget gap it blames on the number of special education needs children.

Councillor Ray Gooding said: “I would say absolutely policy change has absolutely delivered the savings we needed.

“The overspend is significantly around special educational needs.

“We know we have had an almost exponential growth in the number of children that require transport as a result of special educational needs.

“That is something we had had a statutory responsibility need to provide for.

“And frankly, if we had not made the significant savings that we had with the change of policy, the SEN, which we have a duty to provide for, would be unaffordable.

“I can say unequivocally the policy change has delivered the savings we needed and has enabled us, albeit with an overspend, to afford the additional provision for special needs.”

He said the scrutiny committee will now look at detail in the scheme.

He said: “It will finally demonstrate the saving have been achieved.

“We do need to have a further look at SEN provision. That is a challenge but one that certainly I and this council would not fight shy of.”

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