CONCERNS about the rising cost of providing for children with special needs prompted the government to ask Wiltshire Council for its views.

This follows the council's unanimous decision to approve the closure of two special schools in the county which support youngsters and their carers in the Swindon area - Larkrise in Trowbridge and St Nicholas in Chippenham.

Wiltshire remains the seventh lowest-funded school for education for all children funding in the country and numerous calls have been made to invest more cash in the area.

A central government spokesman said: “We have heard local authorities’, schools’ and colleges’ concerns about the rising costs of provision for children and young people with special educational needs and those who are disabled, and about the reducing availability of specialist advice and support. We are listening and will be looking carefully at how much overall funding is required nationally as we prepare for the next government spending review.”

During a School Forum meeting, school leaders confirmed their continued support of Wiltshire’s membership of a campaign group fighting for fairer funding for education for all children. The F40 group is made up of people from across the 42 lowest-funded local authorities who want funding to be more equally shared out.

Schools strategic financial support manager at Wiltshire Council Grant Davis said: “The F40 want to work from the bottom up with costs, highlight what it costs to run a school from teaching costs up and it came up with a £2.3m funding gap. The F40 calculated £36.2m is needed through the designated school grant but the Department for Education give us £33m, the F40 proposal demonstrated a £2.3m funding gap. The current funding formula is insufficient to cover classroom essentials for children in classrooms.”

Wiltshire Council is among several local authorities with an overspend on children with high needs. Last year, the High Needs Block, which includes cash for children with SEND was £4.7m overspent. That is the equivalent of an 11 per cent overspend on the £39m annual budget for pupils with extra needs. Underspends in other parts of the education budget reduced the total to £4.1m.

Around £1.3m from Wiltshire Council reserves and £846k brought forward from last year’s schools funding reserves mean that the total deficit taken forward will be £2m.

Wiltshire Council has to keep the deficit below one per cent of the total Dedicated School Grant (£351.646m) otherwise a recovery plan has to be sent to the Department for Education. It is now 0.6 per cent.

Mr Davis said: “This will not necessarily result in more money but it will be a chance to demonstrate pressures.”