A COUNCIL has unveiled a new strategy for children with special needs and disabilities - while grappling with a near-£10m schools funding overspend.

A cabinet meeting has been told of the new two-year plan for helping children with special educational needs, one in six in County Durham.

It aims to listen to children and young people, develop their resilience, work closely with families, identify and meet needs in good time, offer joined-up support and promote good health, wellbeing and inclusion.

Jim Murray, the council's head of education and skills, presented the 2022 to 2024 strategy to Durham County Council leaders on Wednesday (April 6).

He said: "At the heart of our approach is a vision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities that has the same level of aspiration that we do for all children and young people in County Durham.

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"We want them to be safe, part of their local community, have the best start in life and have good physical and mental health.

"We want them to gain the educational skills and experiences to prepare them for adulthood."

Mr Murray said they were working with a group of young people on a "child-friendly version" of the strategy.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Paul Sexton. Picture: Durham County Council.Cllr Paul Sexton. Picture: Durham County Council.

Councillor Paul Sexton, cabinet member for adult and health services, said: "Our aspirations for all children and young people are at the heart of our ambitions for the future of County Durham.

"And we also want this to be the case for children, young people and young adults with SEND.

"Support for children and young people with SEND does not rely on a single service or team, but quite often needs the help of many working with families to help the children and young people to achieve all they are able to."

Mr Murray also reported on "high needs block" schools funding which pays for SEND and inclusion support services for children, young people and young adults.

He said: "In recent years in Durham and other local authorities, there have been insufficient resources to support children and young people with SEND and inclusion needs."

He said this was due to increased demand and increased complexity of needs as he presented a new five-year financial plan.

He told how spending had exceeded the high needs block grant for years, and latest forecasts predicted a £9.7m deficit which they sought to recover with support from increased Government funding.

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Cllr John Shuttleworth, cabinet member for rural communities and highways, said: "Some of our children and young people rely on a range of specialist support services to help them with their needs.

"The longer-term position is still unclear and we are still awaiting the Government's review of special educational needs which is due and may have significant impacts for how we work in the future."

The Northern Echo: Cllr John Shuttleworth. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr John Shuttleworth. Picture: Northern Echo.

He said the overspend was reducing and progress had been made despite Covid which delayed and disrupted learning and made helping children with complex needs "a real challenge".

Cllr Richard Bell, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, welcomed efforts to bring the area of the budget more under control.

He said: "Like many other councils we've consistently overspent our high needs dedicated schools grant funding allocations for several years now."

He said the deficit of just under £10m must be repaid over time, and it was planned to underspend over the next two years to balance the budget, with measures to control and curb spending without impacting on people.


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