A Special Educational Needs funding gap is impacting every classroom in the county, a debate today heard.
Labour councillors at Nottinghamshire County Council were attempting to send a cross-party letter to the Government asking for a funding increase for Nottinghamshire.
The Conservatives, who run the county council, acknowledge that special educational needs (SEN) funding needed to improve and say high-level talks with the Government are ongoing, but that a letter was unlikely to change anything.
Further, they said Labour’s motion was ‘insulting and degrading’ to those children in the county who currently receive an outstanding education because it said ‘Children with SEN are not getting the education they deserve’.
The motion was narrowly defeated, by 31 votes to 30, with Labour supporting and the Conservatives opposing.
Labour councillor Kate Foale, who represents Beeston Central and Rylands, said a front-line SEN teacher in Broxtowe had said to her: “‘The terrifying reality is that we have a wide range of students with highly complex needs and no way of meeting them’.
“Why is this happening in Nottinghamshire?”
She congratulated the county council’s education chief, councillor Philip Owen, on his lobbying to the Government to improve funding, but said: “Headteachers should not have to make the choice between caring for a troubled young person with complex needs, and putting at risk the safety of his fellow pupils. But I know it happens.
“In a comparatively wealthy, compassionate society that is unacceptable.”
Councillor Owen, who represents the Nuthall and Kimberley ward for the Conservatives, said his authority had provided more new places in special schools, many of which were judged by OFSTED to be outstanding.
But he also said he had held three meetings with senior Government figures about the funding situation.
An independent report commissioned by the council found there was an £11.6 million shortfall for this academic year and next. Some of the shortfalls for this year has been taken from the mainstream education budget, while more has come from reserves.
Councillor Owen told the debate: “The budgets now are under considerable pressure.
“We’ve been able to meet those budgets by drawing on reserves and making all sorts of administrative savings, but we have reached a point now where that is not sustainable and indeed the transfer agreed by the schools forum of 0.5 per cent (From the mainstream budget to the SEN budget) is not something that we want to occur on a regular basis.
“It’s a fact that our funding is historically low, compared with our statistical neighbours (counties of a similar size) we are bottom of the pile.
“But what good is writing a letter after all we’ve been doing. We’ve done the most effective things, and we’ve got planned even more, without writing a letter.
“So this motion is inaccurate and irrelevant, and I can’t support it because of the gratuitous offensive in the first statement.”
Labour said the first statement – which stated that children are not getting the education they deserve – was not offensive, and that the only reason the Conservatives did not support the motion was that it criticised the Government.
When asked what he thought of the first motion regarding hunting on Council land Councillor Jonathan Wheeler of West Bridgford South said:
‘It was essentially a motion to ban something which is illegal, which of course goes without saying.
‘The fact the original motion was so inaccurate another opposition member had to amend it speaks volumes.
‘In addition, two Councillors from the Independent Group were absent from virtually the whole debate, and returned just to vote! And another independent member abstained but then decided to vote for the motion on the recorded vote just to try and defeat the ruling group which shows the convictions of the Councillor to be honest.
‘I can only speak for myself, but I wasn’t against the meaning of the motion, but couldn’t vote for it due to how poorly worded it was and the fact it was brought just for electioneering.
‘In relation to the motion about Special needs provision this was purely for election purposes. The opposition know full well that the Chairman of Young People has lobbied the Government Minister and spoken to local MPs on the issue. Writing a letter doesn’t compare to that. There has been substantial investment in SEN provision, with the new Orchid School in Newark and Ash Lea School in Cotgrave. It was pure electioneering which is disappointing but not unexpected really.’