South Gloucestershire Council has been given permission to use more than £2million of its funding for mainstream schools to support the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

It is one of few local authorities in the country granted permission by the education secretary to top-slice its share of government school funding in this way next year.

The green light for the transfer has been greeted as “excellent news” by the Conservative council administration but has been criticised by opposition councillors.

The council will get a total of £219.2million for schools in South Gloucestershire next year, according to budget papers for 2020/21.

It was originally told by the government it must spend £163.9million of this on mainstream schools and £35million on places and support for children and young people with SEND.

But, after consulting with schools, the council applied to transfer £4.9million from the mainstream “schools” funding pot to the SEND or “high-needs” pot. 

Education secretary Gavin Williamson approved a transfer of £2.2million.

It follows similar transfers by councils in past years to shore up funding for SEND services, and comes amid an anticipated government clampdown on the common practice to address SEND budget deficits.

Cabinet member for schools, Erica Williams, said: “This is actually extremely good considering that very, very few of the local authorities received any approval for any transfer and our’s represents the highest percentage.”

“So although it’s not as high as we’d asked for, this will actually mean we will be able to continue our investment in early support for SEND pupils,” Cllr Williams told councillors about to vote on the 2020/21 schools budget on February 12. 

The council voted to adopt the schools budget by a majority.

Labour abstained from the vote after group leader Pat Rooney called the top-slicing “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.

The Liberal Democrat group reluctantly supported the schools budget, saying there was “no alternative”.

Lib Dem councillor Mike Drew said the need to top-slice the schools was “bad news” because it meant SEND services were still underfunded by central government and mainstream schools would have to contribute £2.2million from their “already very stretched budget”.

“As a governor of a school, I know how hard the school has to work to try and curtail their activities to fit the budget and it means that, each year, teaching within the school is not as good as it should be,” Cllr Drew said.

Fellow Lib Dem councillor Jayne Stansfield said: “We hope that this administration is doing everything possible to raise this issue with their colleagues in central government.”

Council leader Toby Savage said he and local school headteachers had lobbied government only the week before at a roundtable meeting in Parliament organised by Thornbury and Yate MP Luke Hall.

“The issues that we have in South Gloucestershire are being heard at the very, very highest level,” Cllr Savage said.

He added that it was a myth that funding transferred from the “schools” block to the “high needs” block is lost to schools.

“Actually, it is all the same funding pot,” he said.

The Government announced a national £14billion increase in funding for schools at the end of last year.

Of this, South Gloucestershire has received a further £8million a year for mainstream schools and £2.4million for the high-needs block, on top of an extra £8.1million that had already been announced.