Headteacher outcry after £7m SEND pot assigned to academy expansion

A group of headteachers have written to their council, challenging its proposal to spend almost £30 million on expanding two schools, claiming it’s an “unjustifiable” amount to take from special needs funding.

Twelve headteachers in Newham, a borough in east London, are dismayed that they were not consulted on council proposals to expand two academies by six entry forms, creating a “mega-school” with over 14 new forms starting at the school each year.

The headteachers, including Diane Rochford, who wrote the Rochford Review on special educational needs, said the council’s decision to spend £29 million was “seriously concerning” because £7 million of the total is to be taken from a pot that had been earmarked for SEND.

Newham council’s cabinet agenda from April shows that £7 million for the “Stratford SEN Unit” will now be handed to Brampton Manor and Forest Gate schools to expand by four and two forms respectively.

The expansion is one of 12 on the agenda, in a meeting recorded as lasting just 24 minutes.

There doesn’t seem to be the right balance of interests

The final decision on the expansion was put before a headteacher board last Friday. The outcome is not yet known.

The heads said the £7 million loss “does not consider the serious deficiencies in SEND provision” in the borough. Some pupils are now “educated at home” due to a lack of suitable provision.

Barney Angliss, a SEND consultant, said the cabinet agenda was a further example of SEND pupils “losing in a numbers game” because local authorities prioritise mainstream place demand over provision for special needs.

“There doesn’t seem to be the right balance of interests,” he said.

The cabinet report admits the new six forms of entry will lead to a surplus of 378 pupil places by 2020-21.

An alternative option suggested by the letter from the heads is the creation of six “bulge classes” across the 14 secondary schools in Newham rated as good or outstanding.

This would be less expensive than creating the new classrooms at an “unjustifiable” £29 million cost, they claimed.

The impact a “mega-school” with 14 forms of entry at Brampton Manor academy had not been properly assessed, the letter concluded.

But the headteacher of Brampton Manor said he had received almost 2,300 applications for 300 places last year. Consequently, the school had been approached by the council to expand. He had not applied.

The £29 million cost was “based on the council’s recent experience of competitively tendering similar school projects”, said a council spokesperson.

A “tiered approach” is applied to SEND provision in the borough with the majority of pupils set to be educated in mainstream schools, the spokesperson added. Specialist provision is available for pupils “with the most complex needs”.