PARENTS and former students have voiced their concerns that North Yorkshire’s “most vulnerable children” may be lost to the education system, during an emotional meeting about proposed changes to the county’s High Needs Budget.

Parents, school and union representatives met with county council officials at a consultation meeting at Harrogate’s Cedar Court.

Changes to the High Needs Budget are centred around a three-pronged approach proposed by NYCC to claw back a £5.5m overspend due to Government underfunding.

For parents, students and education providers there are fears the proposals would lead to drastic cuts in school curriculums, as well as a loss of places at Pupil Referral Units (PRU).

PRUs help students who have been or are facing permanent exclusion from a mainstream school, as well as accepting pupils who cannot be taught in a regular setting due to complex behavioural and mental health problems.

One former student of Harrogate PRU Grove Academy told the meeting the school had got her “through the hardest times of my life”. “Without them I’d be in jail…what do (cuts) mean for pupils like me who physically can’t sit in (class)rooms with 30 other people? What are pupils like me going to do without services like them?”

The council has a £44.8m budget to spend on special education provisions. NYCC’s assistant director for inclusion Jane le Sage said the figure was based on historic trends of traditionally low numbers of students on a Education, Health and Care Plan (ECHP) in the county.

However, between January 2016 and January 2018 there has been an increase of 1014 children requiring special educational needs support. The trend has left the council having to do more with less.

Ms le Sage told the meeting that carrying the £5.5m overspend would “break” the council. Part of the authority's on-going strategy is to lobby Government for an increase in funding in the sector.

The Harrogate meeting is the last before public consultation ends on November 11.

Once consultation is closed, responses will go towards a report to be considered by NYCC executive members with responsibility for children and young people’s services.