Urgent enquiry into special needs funding after allocation runs out in Stevenage

Councillor Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council

Councillor Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council - Credit: Courtesy of Stevenage Borough Co

Education chiefs in Hertfordshire are urgently looking at a locally-administered stream of special needs funding – after Stevenage ran out of funds in less than three months. 

‘Delivering Special Provision Locally’ (DSPL) funding – amounting to around £1.5m a year – is shared between nine areas of the county.

It's designed to support children and young people with emerging high needs or who have needs that fall outside the Education and Health Care Plan (ECHP) process. 

But that funding allocated to the Stevenage area for the whole of 2021/2 ran out within three months. 

Director of children’s services Jo Fisher is said to be leading ‘an urgent piece of work’ to look at what has happened – and whether there are similar issues  in other areas of the county. 

On Friday, October 1, Labour councillor and leader of Stevenage Borough Council Cllr Sharon Taylor acknowledged that this was a very specific stream of special educational needs funding, but that this was causing ‘great distress’ to the parents that are supported by it. 

She said headteachers and nursery providers had been told in writing that the ‘money had run out’ , and those affected were finding it difficult to see how they were going to get through the year without the additional provision. 

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Meanwhile, Lib Dem Cllr Sally Symington also pointed to significant pressures – with ‘families not being able to get EHCPs and being educated at home because they are not able to access the system’. 

Assistant director for finance, Steven Pilsworth, acknowledged that there were undoubtedly huge pressures in SEND  and SEND provision. 

He referenced the changes to the Care Act in 2014, which had expanded entitlement in terms of care, but had not come with government funding attached. 

Mr Pilsworth said DSPL funding recognised that there were a number of children who did not have an EHCP, but who needed support, and £1.5m had been set aside with a number of panels allocating those funds. 

Cllr Taylor said she hoped that funding could be found to make up for the deficit in the Stevenage area. 

She asked whether it would be possible for them to be given some reassurance – or for additional funding to be made available during the ongoing review, so that services would not have to stop.