Barnsley Council education leaders have entered into a ‘safety valve’ agreement with the Department for Education to resolve a ‘historical’ black hole in the dedicated schools grant (DSG).
Like many other local authorities across the UK, the council found itself with a deficit due to the growth in demand for special educational needs (SEN) provision greatly exceeding the government funding provided over the past eight years.
The DfE has committed to paying the council £22.9m over five years to 2026/27 - provided in instalments and subject to continued satisfactory progress - in line with a dedicated management plan the plug the hole.
Coun Trevor Cave, cabinet spokesperson for children’s services, said: “In order to achieve our ambitions set out in Barnsley’s SEN strategy it is important that we have sufficient funding from the government to achieve this.
“Funding for a lot of services for children and young people with SEN is through the dedicated schools grant and high needs funding block.
“Safety valve funding from the government is targeted at councils where there is a deficit which has grown over time.
“The high needs funding deficit has been a significant financial challenge for us so we welcome this opportunity to work with DfE on the safety valve programme to reduce the impact on the council and allow us to move to a more sustainable position.
“The council has been through a rigorous process over a number of months in order to be accepted on to the programme.
“We are pleased that this announcement demonstrates confidence in our plans and our strategy to identify and meet needs earlier and for children and young people to educated in their local mainstream school and if this is not possible, specialist provision closer to home.”
SEN reforms in 2014 increased the age range eligibility up to 25 years old and across the country, councils have seen large deficits build up as the number of children and young people with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) increased but without the increase in funding to match.
The DfT allocation is for £9.16m this year, followed by three consecutive years of £2.75m and a final £5.5m in 2026/27, but it’s also hoped a new 200-place special school - run jointly by Barnsley and Sheffield councils and approved by the government earlier this year - will ease the strain.
“Approval is great news and a crucial step forward in helping build a brighter future for every Barnsley child by helping them reach their potential,” Coun Cave added.
“We’ve recently been successful in a joint bid with Sheffield Council, to provide a school for SEND pupils where 100 places will be available for Barnsley children and young people.
“The safety valve funding will help us continue our ambition for every Barnsley child to reach their full potential in a place of possibilities.”