SOARING demand is set to cause an £8 million overspend on schooling for vulnerable youngsters.

Oxfordshire County Council has seen a huge rise in the number of children with special needs in the county and has revealed plans to help meet spiralling costs.

It could transfer up to £1.8m from other areas of schooling to its ‘high needs’ budget, to fund education for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

In a consultation document, the council said: “With increasing demand in all settings, particularly for special school and independent school places, the high needs block is overspending.

“The increased spend is caused by rising demand, rising need and rising expectations alongside continued and sustained pressure on resources.”

The plan is part of a wider school funding consultation which ended yesterday, and states that the council’s SEND education overspend is expected to hit £6m this year and £8m next year.

The consultation document added: “The population of Oxfordshire grows at approximately two per cent but the increase in the number of high needs learners is growing at 22 per cent.

“There is an increasing gap between funding and spend.”

Under the new national funding formula for schools, local authorities are given a government grant to fund education services, split into blocks for early years, schools and 'high needs'.

The latter funds education for special needs learners aged two to 25, including alternative provision for children who have been excluded from mainstream schools.

In the 2019-2020 year, authorities are allowed to transfer up to 0.5 per cent from their schools block to another block, and the county council could do so to boost its high needs block.

This year the council received £61m from the government for its high needs funding, and expects to receive about £61.5m next year.

Transferring the full 0.5 per cent next year would equate to £1.8m, or £22 per pupil.

The council’s consultation cited a ‘marked increase’ in the number of pupils excluded from mainstream schools, leading to the need to find and fund alternative places, such as those offered at Meadowbrook College in Oxford.

Between 2014 and 2016, there was a 168 per cent increase in the number of high needs pupils excluded from Oxfordshire schools, compared to a 12 per cent increase for pupils with no additional needs.

Demand for places at special schools in Oxfordshire is increasing, and the council is looking at building new schools to meet the shortfall.

In June a report prepared for the council’s education scrutiny committee revealed that some families were opting to home-school due to the lack of SEND school places.

A council spokesman said: “Oxfordshire County Council is committed to ensuring that the SEND provision offered across the county meets the needs of all children.

“The council has seen a significant increase in requests for education, health and care needs assessments and special school placements over the last few years.

“This increase is reflected nationally and costs are the subject of discussion across many local authorities.”

He said the council is undertaking a ‘thorough review of all SEND provision across the county’ to ensure all children and young people with special needs are supported.