Bournemouth schools at risk of joining 'Safety Valve'

Outside BCP Civic Centre. (Photo Credit to Jessie Price)

Outside BCP Civic Centre. (Photo Credit to Jessie Price)

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council (BCP) are under pressure, with the suggestion to slash school budgets. After it was put forward in a meeting, due to fears of going bankrupt.

"Percentages don't matter, it's about the children." are the words from a mother of two.

The mother, who would like to remain anonymous, has a son who was diagnosed with autism and epilepsy.

Herself and other families are concerned about BCP Council discussing the possibility of joining the 'Safety Valve'.

She added: "It's so worrying and it's already in a state right now.

"We have to fight all the time to get the support our kids need and now they won't be met.

"It's a rippling effect on kids." : said the mother of two.

People from Bournemouth and surrounding areas have set up an ePetition to reject the Government's Safety Valve. 

 The petition wants to “SUPPORT our children. SUPPORT our schools.”

So far it has over 1900 signatures and is increasing every day. In response to potential slashing of school budgets by 11%.

It runs from 8 January to 13 February.

On a local Facebook group, residents in Dorset have stated their opinions on it.

Stewart Baynham said: “It needs wider publicity. More money pinching at the cost to children and their families it seems.”

Another individual said: “General support for SEND children and parents is atrocious already. It’s a national crisis and nothing is being done.”

Other people left responses such as this:

Response from a Facebook Page. (Credit to Jessie Price).

Response from a Facebook Page. (Credit to Jessie Price).

BCP Council was invited to the DfE's (Department of Education) programme in July 2023. Where discussions were made about cutting down school budgets and a report was further developed after the meeting on 13 December 2023. Read here for more.

Parents on community pages are voicing their concerns over the budget and how will affect those in SEND schools and mainstream.

How would it affect SEND and mainstream schools?

By cutting the school budget by 11%, it will mean SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) may be sent to mainstream schools, who would have been in specialist schools prior to the move, whilst slashing SEND services too.

If the Safety Valve plan go ahead, it could see reduced investments in SEND, which will cut support delivered to children.

"Slashing new plans by 50%, pushing up to 90% of new plans into mainstream schools, and making further cuts to support for children aged 16."


"It’s just cruel and disgusting that they’re even reducing support.”
Amy Bishop, Poole Community Group (Facebook).

Understanding school budgets

There are two main blocks within school budgets. Main school block (for Mainstream schools) which is where money goes out to all schools. Then there's High need blocks (for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) where funding goes out to them.

The amount of money coming through to local authorities for SEND is less than what is being sent, meaning the BCP council are entering a deficit.

Local authorities are not allowed to run a deficit and they receive balanced budgets every year. So, they're not allowed to borrow or run over their set budgets.

Until the Government passed a rule called, 'Statutory Override', allowing local authorities to carry a deficit over to the high needs block. This rule was set back in 2014 and at the time more Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) were being issued.

It was only meant to be carried forward for a few years but decisions were then made to extend it, as the local authorities weren't able to catch up on their budgets.

Councillor Richard Burton. (Photo credit BCP Council).

Councillor Richard Burton. (Photo credit BCP Council).

Councillor Richard Burton was elected again in May 2023 and appointed for Children's and Young People Portfolio. He previously chaired children's scrutiny (looking at scrutinising what happened in offices) but is now on the other side of that.

Cllr Richard Burton said: "The 11 per cent of slashing school budgets isn't going to happen."

There is a budget overspend. He said: "Like most Local Authorities, has been going up and up and up." It is believed the overspend is reaching £60 million at the moment. With this set to expire in 2026, the local authorities should reset to having a balanced budget.

Cllr Richard Burton added: "There's no way we can get to that point because it's going up."

Estimations of the budget overspend may reach £256 million by 2026.

He discussed how the slashing on school budgets by 11% came out and why it isn't happening.

He also added: "Schools will go bust if you tried to take 11% off them. For example, most teachers would be made redundant."

Cllr Richard Burton said: "There's one of few things that can happen."

One being the Government can invest more money into Local Authorities to help manage the spending of budgets.

Another option being the Local Authorities have to find a way to get that money back into the system.

However, Cllr Burton stressed that it's a huge amount of money to try and get back.

"If not, the Local Authorities will go bust."
Councillor Richard Burton

If this does occur, it means a potential issuing of section 114. This will only happen at the point where you're not allowed to carry the money over.

There is a 0.5% transfer, which the school forums can vote on. So, the surplus of school budgets can be transferred, only if the schools agree to do this.

If agreed then this transfer goes to Local Authorities.

However, on 15 January 2023, school forums voted against this. If the money is needed with validation, Local Authorities can go to the Secretary of State and state why they need the 0.5%.

Cllr Richard Burton said: "We'll probably get 0.5% from the main block to transfer to the high needs block."

Former Councillor for Wallisdown & Winton West Ward, Nigel Hedges, spoke on his views about BCP council cutting school budgets.

Nigel Hedges (Photo Credit to Jessie Price).

Nigel Hedges (Photo Credit to Jessie Price).

Mr Hedges said: "If there's one area you don't want to get it wrong, it's this one."

He believes it's like a balancing act of, is there enough money? And have we got the people?

In response to EHCPs being issued, Mr Hedges thinks it's a positive thing and that "they're needed."

With the debate on how much school budgets will be cut by and how that will impact schools, children and parents. Mr Hedges said: "Do we need a complete reset? Think of the children."

He also added: "I would hope on a national precedence, it would supersede budgetary worries."

Bournemouth School, Bournemouth School for Girls, Parkstone Grammar School and Poole Grammar School have all sent a joint letter to MPs.

The letter raises their "lack of confidence" and the inability for BCP Council to manage Dedicated Schools' Grant (DSG).

The DSG is the main source of government funding for education provisions from Local Authorities in England. The council and the government are talking through potential agreements in using the "safety valve" as a way forward to bring down the deficit.

This has caused anxiety, panic and outrage for parents.

Schools believe this has been 'mismanaged' from April 2019 as stated in the joint letter.

If any percentage is cut, parents such as Nicole Bateman are worried for the detrimental effect it will have on provisions in education, teachers and families.

The letter states 'we trust we can count on your support in this matter to the benefit of all schools in the local area.'

Nicole Bateman said: "Whatever the percentage, it's still going to have a detrimental impact on education and children's mental health.

"It's still a cut and they can't deny that."