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Birmingham counts £18m cost of helping special needs pupils

Birmingham counts £18m cost of helping special needs pupils

🕔02.Jan 2013

kidsThe soaring cost of helping 37,000 children with learning difficulties is threatening to blow a hole in Birmingham City Council’s already perilous finances.

A Chamberlain Files special investigation has identified a 30 per cent increase in the Special Educational Needs (SEN) budget since 2010-11 – from £14 million to £18 million – with forecasts suggesting that the burden will continue to rise year on year.

It’s also emerged that Birmingham is failing by a long way to meet a statutory 26 week deadline for the completion of statements for the most challenging SEN pupils.

Even though the council has recruited a private firm, Independent Business Services, to help it meet the target, so far this year only 24 per cent of statements have been completed within the timescale required by the Department for Education.

It’s understood that the figure fell briefly to 19 per cent before Christmas.

The definition of special educational needs set out in the 1996 Education Act is wide-ranging: “Children who have learning difficulties or physical disabilities which make it harder for them to learn or to access education than most children of the same age.”

Just over a quarter of all Birmingham school children are ranked SEN, which means that they require additional support in the classroom and sometimes at home. Most are on school action plans, but the needs of about 5,000 pupils are so severe that they have a statement which allows them to attend special schools.

A sharp rise in the number of pupils with various forms of autism is a major factor behind the swollen SEN figures.

Seven years ago, 13 per cent of Birmingham SEN children were autistic. Today, the figure is 24 per cent and rising.

A significantly higher than average number of autistic children live in 22 of Birmingham’s 40 wards, with the greatest penetration in the south, south-east and north-west of the city.

Cllr Anita Ward, chair of the education and vulnerable children scrutiny committee, said the council was clearly “failing” SEN pupils and called for a new strategy.

She highlighted the growing number of SEN children in Birmingham from South-east Asian origin with severe wheelchair-bound disabilities and multiple needs, adding that cultural differences were partly to blame. Cllr Ward said: “Obviously, inter-family marriages is a sensitive issue but it is something we have to start taking seriously.”

Although about 20 per cent of the Birmingham population is of Pakistani origin, almost 30 per cent of SEN pupils are from a Pakistani background.


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