Big investment to provide more places for vulnerable children in Devon

close up photograph of seats in Devon County Council's council chamber

Posted on: 20 February 2020

More than £19 million is being spent in Devon to create another 300 places for vulnerable children in the county’s special schools.

Devon County Council is to expand the places available in its own 10 special schools to provide for another 200 children.

And it is bidding for Government approval for another free school which will provide an additional 100 places for children with social, emotional and mental health needs.

Devon has already spent over £4 million on a new special school in Tiverton which opened last September. Another special school will open in Newton Abbot next September.

The big expansion will mean more children can be educated closer to their families instead of in expensive private and independent schools.

It comes as Devon’s budget for children with special needs is expected to overshoot by £21.5 million this year.

Photo of Councillor James McInnesDevon County Council’s Cabinet member for schools, James McInnes, said: “We have seen an unprecedented growth in the demand for support for children with special educational needs over the last few years.

“Over the past three years we have increased the places available in our own special schools by 20 per cent but even so demand continues to grow.

“There are more than 6,500 children with Education, Health and Care Plans in Devon – that’s nearly 45 per cent more over the past four years.

“The majority can be successfully supported in our mainstream schools and Devon supports a higher than average number of children in our mainstream schools. But some of the most vulnerable children need to be educated in a special school.

“Our paramount concern is obviously to provide the best possible education and care for them.

“But an average place in an independent special school often costs twice as much as a place in one of Devon’s own special schools. And often children have to travel away from their homes – and sometimes out of the county – to access a place in an independent school.

“So it makes sense for their welfare and well-being as well as providing a more cost effective option.”

Mr McInnes chairs the national campaign group, f40, which represents the worst funded local authorities in the country.

He said: “This is an issue which affects councils across the country, most of whom are recording major overspends in their budgets for high needs.

“f40 has delivered a dossier to the Government in which we estimate they need to spend another £2.4 billion on high needs.

“This is mainly because in 2014 they extended the age range for the children we care for from 18 to 25 and introduced the EHCPs but didn’t provide anywhere near enough extra money.”

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