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MP calls for Government to increase High Needs funding as Formby special school announces closure

Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson says the closure of Clarence High School in Formby is ‘symptomatic’ of budget pressures in the entire education system and called on the Government to increase funding to provide a decent education for all needs.

Clarence High, an independent high school on West Lane in Formby, caters for around 25 young people aged seven to 19 with special needs, including behavioural difficulties and autism.

Its owners Nugent Care has announced it will close at the end of the school year due to ‘financial pressures’.

The MP Mr Esterson said the squeeze on budgets since 2010 imposed by the Conservative and Lib Dem Governments had led to a loss of provision for the most vulnerable youngsters.

“Continuity is so important for many young people with special needs, especially autism, and it’s a real concern that these children will now have to move to new schools.

“Parents and carers must be consulted fully on these changes and involved fully in the decisions regarding where their children will now by placed to continue their education.

“I will be writing to the Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds to ask him to explain why such a provision has become unviable when demand for High Needs places is increasing. I will also be demanding to know what plans the Government has to ensure a suitable educational placement for every child whatever their needs.

“I will be writing to the minister about funding, which is clearly at the heart of the problem. My main concern is about the disruption to these children as stability and routine are extremely important to all children especially so to those with autism or learning difficulties.”

Children from Sefton and the wider Merseyside region attend Clarence High school and Mr Esterson said pupils and families must be fully involved in the decisions regarding new schools.

Although the school is ‘independent’, places are funded by local authorities when the authority and the family believe the school is the best choice for the child. There are several other schools for special needs children in Sefton, including Rowan Park and Merefield, which are run by Sefton Council.

Nugent Care described the decision to close as ‘extremely difficult’ but said ‘due to ongoing financial pressures and the age and condition of the estate, we have needed to review our options from an economic viewpoint’.

Sefton Council recently announced a £2m hole in their High Needs budget for special needs provision and figures recently released from the National Education Union show that mainstream schools in Sefton are set to lose a combined total of £7.4m by 2020.

In a report to the Sefton Schools Forum on March 12 this year, Sefton Council Ofificers wrote that cuts to special needs provision would have to take place to address the £2m deficit, and that other North West Boroughs were also struggling.

The report stated: “11 out of the 23 LA s in the region (excluding Sefton), indicate we are not the only Local Authority with a funding gap in their High Needs budgets. Funding shortfalls of anywhere between £0.073m and as much as £8.5m are recorded, with the average gap being between £1m and £3m next year.”

The report went on to say: “A variety of possible actions are being considered” including “reducing dependence on Non Maintained and Independent school places and raising in-house provision”.

Several headteachers from mainstream schools in the constituency recently told the MP that they were being forced to cut staff due to budget pressures.

Mr Esterson MP said: “I was astounded at the number of headteachers who came forward to tell me just how difficult it is to run schools under this Government. The squeeze on education budgets must be addressed or all children will suffer.”

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