In education, local government continues to play a different but important role in overseeing education, following the CCN leading calls against forced academisation of schools in 2016. They are responsible for school places, education support, and provide some services to schools. County authorities have assisted in the national effort by supplying PPE and ensuring that schools are receive public health support to operate as safely as possible after two national lockdowns.
Two areas local authorities retain a direct responsibility for is support for special educational needs pupils, and home to school transport for eligible pupils. Both areas have seen large rises in demand over the last few years, and insufficient funding to cope with this.
The Children and Families Act 2014 brought welcome changes in extending the availability and choice of services for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and their families. As a result, the number of pupils in county areas being granted Educational Health and Care Plans as part of the reforms have increased by almost 10,000 extra each year: but the cost of these is borne out of the local authority’s budget, with this increase having a huge knock-on cost to councils’ high-needs block. As local authorities took on additional responsibilities for providing SEND, this extra demand was not accounted for in terms of an uplift in funding.
This has also had a knock-on impact on home to school transport, which has emerged as a major budgetary issue for councils in the last few years. For pupils who do not have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), councils have had little choice but to tighten eligibility, as County Councils Network research showed. Further CCN research shows that county authorities spent 30% more in 2018 on special educational needs pupils’ home to school transport, some £76m, compared to four years previously, whilst the costs for individual pupils are rising too.