Autism charity warns special needs cuts would break local council rules

The National Autistic Society has warned that the government would
be breaching local authority rules if it tried to cut special
educational needs (SEN) funding.

The charity’s concerns follow comments by education secretary
Charles Clarke about the way local education authorities have
distributed their education budgets, with some choosing to fund
“huge increases” in special educational needs.

Clarke told the annual conference of teachers’ union Nasuwt last
week that concerns about school budget deficits could not be blamed
on a lack of central government investment but on the spending
decisions of individual LEAs.

He insisted that, after allowing for rises in pensions, national
insurance contributions and pay, the government had increased
spending on schools this year by £250m.

But Steve Broach, policy and campaigns manager for the NAS, said
the society was “curious” that the government was singling out
special needs spending as a reason for the funding problems in

He said: “The implication of this is that some LEAs are spending
more than others, but local authorities have a duty to assess and
meet the special educational needs of a child and have little
control of how much they spend if the law is being applied

Broach added that any cuts in SEN funding would be unhelpful and
result in more parents taking their cases to the independent SEN
and disabilities tribunal.

Clarke said an initial audit of 90 LEAs’ spending budgets this year
had shown “big variations in the proportion of the increase in the
schools budget which is actually being passed to schools”.

He added: “In three-quarters of LEAs the increase in funding that
is going direct into the individual budgets of schools is lower
than the overall increase the LEA has made for schools funding.
Some authorities have made huge increases in funding for special
educational needs – while others are making reductions.”

Clarke said he would publish spending figures for all 150 LEAs once
they had been filed, and ask individual authorities to justify
their decisions. He said he would then consider changes to the
funding rules for 2004-5.

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