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Derbyshire Council to spend £9.7 million on extra school places for children with SEN

A Derbyshire council is to spend £9.7 million on creating extra school places for children with special educational needs – instead of building new schools.

Derbyshire County Council has announced the spending a month after the authority was thrown into the spotlight in Parliament by Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins for allegedly “sitting” on £16 million for special school places.

The authority had said this was “inaccurate” and “misleading” but did not deny it still held this money unspent, some since 2019 and the rest since 2022.

This has drawn criticism from parents of children with special education needs, calling the time taken to spend the money “ridiculous” and a “big slap in the face”.

Its new announcement is an “initial” release of the money it has retained and will create 273 extra school places for children with special educational needs over the next two years.

The authority says it cannot currently say where these places will be created.

It had previously said the money had been held to have discussions with school leaders about where to allocate the money to ensure fair and efficient distribution to match local needs.

It says the authority has been creating more spaces for children with special educational needs since 2020, taking places from 1,022 to 1,227.

The £9.7 million it is now using would create 133 places throughout the next academic year (2024/2025) and a further 140 places throughout the 2025/2026 academic year.

A statement from the authority details: “By working with maintained and academy special schools to expand places across the county, rather than seeking to build one or two new special schools in specific areas, it is hoped the new places will be better geographically spread and be accessible to as many Derbyshire families as possible.”

Cllr Alex Dale, county council cabinet member for education, said: “This significant £9.7 million investment and close collaboration with special school leaders reaffirms our commitment to fostering an inclusive educational environment where every child has access to the resources they need to thrive.

“We want to give every child in Derbyshire the best possible start in life and this initiative reflects our ongoing commitment to enhancing educational opportunities to support the county’s most vulnerable learners.

“Our wider plan focuses on promoting inclusion in across all our schools as evidence shows that many children with special needs will thrive in a mainstream setting with the right support in place.

“Work has been ongoing with mainstream schools for several months and we have gone through an expressions of interest process with them to establish where we can best use the remaining SEND capital funding we’ve been provided with by the Government to promote inclusion, with more enhanced resource schools, SEND unit and alternative provision places and a good geographic spread across the county to ensure they are as accessible as possible to all Derbyshire families.

“We hope to be able to make some initial announcements on this part of the plan in the coming months and we’ll continue working very hard to ensure every Derbyshire child can reach their full potential, whatever their ability and whatever challenges they may face.”

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