A newly approved multi-million-pound agreement to support special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) with a five-year investment plan has been described as the most important project currently happening in Wiltshire Council.

The plan will see the Department for Education (DfE) contribute £67 million over five years, which, along with the council’s investments, will provide 500 additional special school places.

This will allow children to stay closer to home in Wiltshire, something the council has listed as a priority.

It will also fund new teams giving early support for children and young people with SEND, which, in some cases, will avoid them going through “the long process” of waiting for an EHC plan.

Additionally, the project will provide investment for further resource bases that allow pupils with SEND to remain in mainstream schools.

Councillor Laura Mayes, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said she felt “confident” that what is being proposed is “right for children and young people.”

She said: “We want every child in Wiltshire to have the best possible start in life, and that is particularly for our children with SEND, who need that additional support.

“In the time that I’ve been lead member, we’ve seen spend increasing significantly with children with SEND that is more than we receive from the government.

“This is becoming increasingly a problem - it is the same across the whole country, but we’ve got a plan as to how to turn that around.

“We’ve got to be able to support the children in the way that they need that support, but we’ve got to get ourselves back into a balanced financial position because, at the moment, we’re not.”

Wiltshire Council submitted the plan as part of the government Safety Valve programme.

Safety Valve is a DfE programme that works with councils that have high overspends in their High Needs Block budget, which supports children with SEND.

In November 2023, a report revealed that the rise in children and young people needing additional support is higher in Wiltshire than in the rest of England.

Wiltshire Council recently announced that additional places for SEND pupils should become available in Westbury after a successful bid to secure a new free school.

It reported that the new school for 130 pupils will provide specialist provision for pupils with social emotional and mental health needs.

According to the council, the new special school will be located at Bitham Park, subject to completion of feasibility studies and planning permissions.