A TOP-UP of £3.2 million has been agreed to fund SEND (special educational needs and disability) services in Oxfordshire schools.

The county council’s cabinet met on Tuesday to sign off the cash, with the council’s SEND budget currently standing at a deficit of £11.7 million.

Deputy leader of Oxfordshire County Council, Liz Brighouse, said this could rise to £20 million by next spring.

She warned at the meeting this problem was not just a local one, but a national concern.

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“Unless we all work together, we won’t get the best for our children,” she said.

“The big problem we’ve got is we need to move quite quickly.

“It’s difficult for those of us who have not experienced having a child who requires these needs, and your child having to go away from the county to have them met.

“We need to make sure our mainstream schools are included in the support, it’s about engaging the schools and making sure they can meet the needs of pupils.

“We really need to get beyond where we are now.”

Oxford Mail: Deputy leader of Oxfordshire County Council, Liz Brighouse. Picture: Ed NixDeputy leader of Oxfordshire County Council, Liz Brighouse. Picture: Ed Nix

Mrs Brighouse also highlighted the need for a Government review to come to fruition.

The Department for Education’s review was delayed for a third time earlier this month after it was first announced in September 2019.

The review intends to increase capacity and support for SEND pupils.

Mrs Brighouse said: “Our children in our schools are desperate for this SEND review, and yet they’re being neglected.

“We need this review to make sure our children are being looked after and receive the support they need.”

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Top-up funding is additional money made available to enable a pupil with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) to participate in education.

The £3.2 million increase will only be available for the 2021/22 academic year.

For the academic year that is currently drawing to a close, the council’s cabinet agreed increases in top-up funding for mainstream schools in September and for special schools in January.

Those figures were £1.3 million and £1.5 million respectively.

In a report by Kevin Gordon, the council’s corporate director of children’s services, he sets out that those top-us were ‘in recognition that accessing and providing support for children and young people with SEND in Oxfordshire has become increasingly challenging’.

The report added: “Broad reforms to SEN provision and arrangements in Oxfordshire are needed.

“For the past five years, our spending on SEND children and young people has exceeded our budgets.”

A public consultation on a system reform for SEND in Oxfordshire is planned for later in 2021.