Children with Higher Needs: Stoke-on-Trent

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons on 9th September 2019.

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Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

If he will hold discussions with Stoke-on-Trent City Council on its plans to fund services for children with higher needs.

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Next year local authorities, including Stoke-on-Trent City Council, will share in an increase of more than £700 million in higher-needs funding. We will hold separate discussions with the authorities that have raised specific issues with us.

Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

The Minister will be well aware that, as part of its higher-needs recovery plan, Stoke-on-Trent City Council proposes to plunder classroom budgets by £14.5 million over the next four years. The headteachers in the city are opposed to the plan, which will require a sign-off from the Department in order to go ahead. Will the Minister make a commitment today that rather than signing it off, she will convene a meeting of the headteachers in Stoke-on-Trent, so that alternative arrangements can be found that do not necessitate robbing Peter to pay Paul?

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

We are aware of the issues that have arisen in Stoke-on-Trent. The commissioner is due to submit a report to the Department today, and officials will review it and submit recommendations to me in due course. Once a decision has been made, the report will be published.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley Conservative, Staffordshire Moorlands

A number of children with higher needs in Stoke-on-Trent attend Horton Lodge Community Special School in my constituency, where there is great concern about the provision of funds for residential care and the possibility that the school will become unviable. Will the Minister meet me, and perhaps consider visiting Horton Lodge, to see what we can do to ensure that that wonderful, special place continues to operate for many years to come?

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this case in her constituency. Yes, that is something that we should be able to do for her.

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

The Minister has just referred to a report which is currently under way, and which relates to children’s social services rather than the high-needs budget. The cuts proposed by Stoke-on-Trent City Council will cost every secondary school £100,000 and every primary school £50,000. That is money we cannot afford to spend. Will the Minister undertake to accept the request from my neighbour and hon. Friend Gareth Snell, and convene a meeting of headteachers before the Secretary of State signs off a deal?

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

We are aware that local authorities are facing significant pressures. That is why we are making an additional investment of more than £700 million, which will help them to manage those pressures next year. The Department has been looking at this matter, and we will be in touch with Stoke-on-Trent in due course to decide on the best possible actions to be taken in the future.

Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families)

I welcome the new Minister to her post. As she will know, children with special needs rely on help with speech and language and on counselling support, but the Children’s Commissioner has published research showing that the severe underfunding of those services is seriously damaging children’s lives and futures. Even after the spending review and the additional funding to which the Minister has referred, we still face a £1 billion shortfall in special educational needs services by 2021. Given that the Government could so easily find £1 billion to bribe the Democratic Unionist party, will the Minister agree, here and now, to find the same amount to fully fund the services that the country’s most vulnerable children so desperately need?

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I met the Children’s Commissioner last week, and discussed this issue among many others. We welcome her report. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government are spending £7 billion on special educational needs, and are adding an additional £700 million. That is part of the extra £14 billion that we are spending over three years, and I think that it is to be welcomed.[This section has been corrected on 25 September 2019, column 7MC — read correction]