Rising pupil numbers in Knowsley could see more children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) being sent to schools outside the borough from September.
Despite recent progress in reducing reliance on out-of-borough placements for children with special needs, demand for places is expected to exceed capacity in Knowsley this September, according to a report prepared for the council’s Children and Families Board yesterday.
As well as requiring children to travel longer distances to school, the board heard that an increase in expensive out-of-borough placements would mean there would be less money for SEND services in Knowsley itself.
Council officer Jill Albertina told the board: “We know that out-of-borough placements have been expensive recently, and certainly in recent times we have seen an increase in the costs of those out-of-borough placements.
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“That will continue to place pressure on the high level needs block [of funding for SEND places].”
While SEN places within the borough cost around £20,000 each, placing a child outside the borough costs an average of £50,000.
A report prepared for the board added: “The current annual spend on out-of-borough placement is £2.9m per annum; as this expenditure increases the ability of the local area to provide other SEND services and interventions is impeded.
“Transport costs are also likely to rise for the council as more students must travel further to access educational provision.”
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Pupil numbers in Knowsley are rising generally, reflecting national trends, but the high prevalence of SEND in the borough means this rise will place even more pressure on places at special schools.
Ms Albertina told the board on Tuesday (March 30) that the council was looking at the feasibility of expanding the number of SEND places, which could include building a new school and improving SEND provision at mainstream schools.
However, these changes will take time to be introduced meaning they are unlikely to be ready by the start of the new school year, when demand is expected to outstrip supply.