Ministers unveil £50m cash boost for special needs children
Ministers are to hand councils £50m to create hundreds of new school places for children with special needs - but Labour has already dismissed the cash boost as "old funding".
Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi said £50m would be set aside to fund new places or help boost existing provision for children with special educational needs or disabilities - known as SEND students.
The Department for Education said the money could fund more than 700 new special school places, with half of England's councils in line for a £225,000 cash boost.
Local authorities will also be able to use the cash to help build support facilities for SEND pupils, including sensory rooms and playgrounds with specialist equipment.
The money comes as part of a wider £680m package to create 40,000 new places at schools with a 'good' or 'outstanding' rating from inspector Ofsted.
Mr Zahawi said: "This funding will help to create thousands more school places across the country, with a clear focus on transforming the experience of education for children with special educational needs or disabilities."
But Labour's Angela Rayner called the announcement "utterly derisory" and said it would not make up for previous cuts to local authority funding.
She said: “Our schools’ finances are approaching breaking point yet the Government can only re-announce old policies and old funding.
"To offer £50 million for children with special education needs, after cutting billions from school budgets since 2015, is utterly derisory and will not reverse the damage that years of cuts have inflicted on the life chances of our children."
Ms Rayner's remarks came as trade title Schools Week reported that the DfE's announcement had not been backed by new funding from the Treasury. Instead, the £50m is a newly ring-fenced portion of £23bn already announced in 2015.
Charities have given a cautious welcome to the funding pledge, with the National Deaf Children's Society calling it "an important step in the right direction".
"As we have highlighted time and again, pressure on funding for children with SEN and disabilities is reaching breaking point, risking a generation of children’s education," said the charity's policy director Steve Haines.
He added: “This new funding will come as a huge relief to many families, but it is essential we see the detail behind this policy. For children with low incidence disabilities like deafness, it is not just high quality school places that are needed, but vital support services like Teachers of the Deaf. Schools and local authorities must have the freedom to invest where children need the most support.”