EXTRA places for children who require specialist education support have been provided at schools across Barnsley - after a report revealed demand has rocketed despite multi-million pound budget deficits.
A total of 91 places - divided between venues including Penistone Grammar, Astrea Dearne and Worsbrough-based West Riding School - were delivered in 2022, with plans for another 100 at a yet-to-be-built special school by September 2025.
The Chronicle can reveal more than 2,400 youngsters are subject to a so-called education health and care plan (EHCP) - compiled by Barnsley Council to tailor each individual’s specific education needs - but more is being done to cut down on costly out-of-borough placements.
MP Stephanie Peacock, who represents Barnsley East, raised her worries in Parliament after Barnsley Council was reported to have accumulated an £11m deficit in its SEND budget, with the potential to rise to more than £36m by 2024/25.
A ‘significant cost driver’ was the number of youngsters with school places outside of the borough - it was revealed last year that 220 children and young people from Barnsley have an out-of-borough school place, at a total cost of £11.2m.
However, according to a scrutiny panel report - set to be discussed by council bosses on Tuesday - said progress is being made despite the issues.
It said: “In Barnsley there are 2,443 children and young people who have an EHCP maintained by the local authority at the end of January 2023, an increase of 5.6 per cent since January 2022.
“It includes children and young people who are identified as needing help under special education needs support arrangements.
“The council is committed to making sure that people have safe spaces where everyone can contribute to discussions about support in Barnsley.
“However, the council has received a number of complaints from parents and carers of young people, parent groups and organisations and despite attempts to resolve them, the situation has continued.
“But there has been progress made and to date, the Department for Education have been very positive.
“The council has made significant investment in SEND services - there is now an established improvement team which comprises of an additional officers, two specialist teachers, and an additional two tutors.
“Early indications are that schools are open to support, challenge and actively engaging in improving provision in their settings.
“We have also been successful in a joint bid with Sheffield for a new free special school, which will create another 100 places for Barnsley children who have an autism profile of need.
“The anticipated opening date is September 2025 and the academy sponsor selection process has commenced.”
The new school - which is expected to be built on the Barnsley-Sheffield border - includes the provision of 100 places to each local authority which will make a significant difference to both areas, the DfE said, after initial plans for a 60-40 split were ditched.
Key stages three and four - which refer to ages 11 to 16 - will be targeted due to growing demand for local places and the council’s quest to reduce out-of-borough placements.
Coun Trevor Cave, cabinet spokesperson for children’s services at Barnsley Council, said: “We made the joint bid to the DfE to help to address the need for more special provision.
“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.
“We are ambitious for all our children and young people and the school will provide not only access to high-quality education but build confidence and independence so that children and young people can take full advantage of opportunities in the future and into adulthood.
“We have the plan to continue to increase a range of provision in Barnsley so that we can meet the needs of children and young people and ensure that they thrive in their education.”