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Special Educational Needs funding ‘completely inadequate’

In April 2018 the Education Select Committee opened an enquiry to look into the state of School and College funding in England. The enquiry was narrowed to investigate three key issues:

  1. What the Department of Education (DfE) should prioritise for School and College funding
  2. Whether current funding levels and budget setting were working well
  3. Whether specific education funding systems were doing their jobs properly.

The enquiry report was published on 19 July 2019, and it is interesting to note that enough evidence was gathered in relation to SEND funding, that the report contains a whole chapter on the lack of support for schools and pupils with SEND.

The report concludes in relation to SEND funding that “Special educational needs and disability funding is completely inadequate. There is simply not enough money in the system to provide for the scale of demand. Local authorities are expected to face a funding shortfall in excess of £1 billion by 2021. The post–16 sector in particular is having to deal with significant challenges in the context of enormous funding constraints. This is not sustainable.”

 The report notes the numerous inter-related reasons contributing to the funding pressures including:

 Unexpectedly high demand – Between 2014 and 2018, following the 2014 SEND reforms, the number of young people receiving statutory support rose by 38%. Justin Cooke – Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Ambitious about Autism – believed that the scale of the increase in EHCP’s had exceeded initial expectations, and that not enough thought had gone into how the extension of support to the age of 25 would be funded.

Vicious Cycle – One of the factors singled out as a key underling factor driving increasing system-wide costs was the neglect of lower-level interventions under SEND support. Justin Cooke explained that future requirements for costly EHCPs could potentially be reduced by ensuring children receive support earlier on under the SEN support system. EHCPs are described in the report as parents ‘golden ticket’ to ensure adequate support and provision, as low-level support in mainstream schools is driving a crisis of confidence among parents.

Perverse Incentives – In July 2018, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families Nadhim Zahawi acknowledged that there is a lack of incentives for inclusive practice in schools. Schools with a good reputation for inclusivity are attracting higher rates of pupils with SEND. In turn inclusive school are facing disproportionately high costs due to the requirement to fund the first £6,000 of SEND provision from their ‘notional budget’.

Lack of Inclusion – Pupils receiving SEN support are reportedly five time likelier to receive a permanent exclusion than those with no SEND. The cost of exclusions to the taxpayer has been estimated at a staggering £370,000 – taking into account lifetime education, benefits, healthcare and criminal justice costs. The current system also provides schools with financial incentives for permanently excluding children with SEN “particularly when they get to the point of needing extra help that they do not get via an EHC plan or SEN support. They know those children will then be the local authority’s responsibility. If they are placed in a special school, it comes out of the high-needs block, whereas if they aided inclusion and kept them in the school, it would come out of their school block [ … ] If you have a school budget that is so tight you simply cannot pay teachers, there is an incentive to off-roll or exclude.” (Justin Cooke, Education Committee, Oral evidence: Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, 23 October 2018)

 Taking into account all of the above, it’s no wonder that the Committee have concluded that SEND funding is ‘completely inadequate’.

 Tackling the problem

 In order the tackle the SEND funding crisis, the Committee noted that periodic top-ups would not be enough, and that there is now a need for longer term thinking and a co-ordinated effort to tackle the crisis of confidence, funding sufficiency and operational delivery. The Committee identified two key ways in which this should be achieved.

Early intervention and use of the notional budget

The Committee note in their report that Schools need to feel that they are able to provide a graduated response to additional needs before resorting to statutory (EHCP) support systems. In order to improve this improvements needs to be made to the notional budget system. Recommendations as to how this could be done include the following:

  • Appropriate teacher training – clearer national expectations for mainstream schools on what they could and should be delivering.
  • Tracking spending – transparency on how many pupils the notional budget is expected to support, what interventions were being funded, and long-term outcomes for pupils.
  • Make the system more forward looking to support schools’ strategic planning.

Making funding more responsive

 The Committee also report that funding needs to be more responsive to changes in high need. Date from the Department of Education indicated that for the year 2018-2019, Local Authorities were allocated £5.8 billion per year to fund high needs. This allocation was made on the basis of spending patterns in 2012-2013, which in fact derived from Local Authority patterns and decisions in 2005-2006.

The Committee has made it clear that the DfE should “review and revise the high needs funding formula to ensure it is sufficiently responsive to changing needs. The factors and weightings in the formula should be amended to develop a more forward-looking approach that is less reliant on historical factors, and takes greater account of projected trends and requirements for financial flexibility.”                                                                    

 What’s next for SEND Funding?

 At the moment, it’s really hard to tell – the Education Select Committee also has no direct power to make changes itself, and must rely on the DfE to implement their recommendations.

As far as SEND is concerned, we still await the report following main SEND inquiry which has been described as “one of the biggest pieces of work ever undertaken by a [Parliamentary Select] committee” by Robert Halfon MP.

If you are facing issues with lack of funding in your Local Authority, and would like to speak to one of our specialist education law solicitors in confidence, contact our team on 0333 202 7175 .

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