School spending was more than £7 million over budget in Wokingham last year due to pressure on special educational needs services, new council documents have revealed.

It means Wokingham Borough Council’s overall school spending fund is almost £10 million in deficit.

The deficit is related to spending on a government grant – the dedicated schools grant – which forms the main source of income for councils’ schools spending each year.

A grant of some £168 million was allocated to Wokingham Borough Council for the 2022-23 financial year. But the council spent almost £175 million – overspending in the “high needs block” of the grant, which is solely for special educational needs and disability (SEND) services.

Council officers have spoken of how an increase in demand for SEND services pushed the council to apply for emergency government funding.

The council began last year already expecting to spend £3.9 million more than had been allocated – but then increased its forecast to £6.7 million more as the year went on.

By the end of the financial year, they found they had spent £7.2 million more, with SEND services in mainstream schools and on education other than at school coming under even more pressure.

It followed four previous years of overspending on the high needs block – which meant the schools budget was already in deficit by £10 million.

The government gave the council some £8 million extra as part of a “safety valve” scheme aimed at helping SEND services. But it still means the schools budget has a deficit of £9.2 million.

READ MORE: Pressure on SEND services pushed Wokingham council to seek urgent cash

The council’s budget, published earlier this year, says the government has consistently underfunded the high needs block of the grant.

It said: “The High Needs Block is a separate block of funding to support those young people with SEND requirements.

“This has been underfunded by central government for the past few years and, when combined with the increased demand and out-of-borough placements this has meant that the account has operated in a deficit position since 2017/18.

It added: “Considerable challenge continues for SEND in Wokingham, balancing financial sustainability for the High Needs Block against an increasing number and complexity of Children and Young People with Education Health & Care Plans.”

And at a meeting earlier this year council officer Sarah Parsonage said Wokingham had been one of 80 local authorities to apply for Safety Valve funding.

The council’s Schools Forum is set to discuss the dedicated schools grant at a meeting on Wednesday, July 12.