The Crisis in Special Education and Disability (SEND) Funding in the English Education System

May 6, 2019 by admin

Just before Christmas the Government added £125m to the Higher Needs SEN Budget for this year and next. This was their response to an unprecedented campaign by parents challenging local authority cuts to statutory funding for their children’s SEN with successful judicial reviews; Headteachers complaining about their inability to support pupils with SEN and a big campaign from the NEU and other teachers’ organisations and charities. But this will not address the structural problems that have been set up by Government cuts of school budgets in general and Government policies which increasingly reduced the possibility of schools successfully including disabled pupils and those with special educational needs (SEND). This has led to a big increase in the proportion of students in special schools, increased exclusions, off rolling and more parents being forced to home educate. What is needed is a completely different approach and only Labour have this.
“Almost every report that comes out of charities, researchers, Ofsted and the DfE’s own commissioned research – many of which we have covered on SNJ – reports the same picture: Not enough money, not enough SEND in teachers’ training, too many children being excluded, too many poor outcomes for disabled children, rising numbers heading to Tribunal, not enough mental health support in schools, too high criteria for access to CAMHS, insufficient support in mainstream, too, too many children in crisis”. Special Needs Jungle 5th December 2018.

A cut of 8% in real terms between 2015 and 2020 was predicted. Now we have verification from Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) that total school spending in England has risen by around 1% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2017–18, but pupil numbers have risen by around 10% translating into cuts in spending per pupil in England (8%). The IFS go on to say “if you just look at money that goes directly to schools for pupils up to age 16 then school spending per pupil was protected in real terms under the coalition government and then cut by about 4% in real terms between 2015 and 2017. Our bigger estimated cut of 8% between 2009–10 and 2017–18 includes the additional effects of much larger cuts to school sixth form spending per pupil (25%) and local authority spending (55%). Local authority services include spending on home-to-school transport, additional support for pupils with special educational needs, central administration”.This cut has been increased by the Government’s refusal to pay for the full 3.5% pay award, recommended by the Pay Review Board. Schools will have to find at least 1%. As pay is a very substantial part of school budgets, this effectively takes the reduction up to 9%.

A National Association of Head Teachers NAHT survey of 600 primary head teachers showed 94% found it harder to resource SEND than 2 years ago and only 2% said top up funding was sufficient to meet Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).

Showing their anger at cuts in real spend of schools, over 2000 headteachers demonstrated in Whitehall on 28th September. High among their concerns was their increasing inability to put in place the provision required by children with SEND.

One head teacher from Suffolk told how she had been bitten by a pupil this week.”It wasn’t his fault. It was because of a situation outside of school, and his emotional support had been cut two weeks earlier because of the cuts.”She could not give her name in case the pupil was identified, but she added: “We have children who are distressed and angry and we can’t help them.”Another Suffolk head teacher, Kelly Head from Springfield Infants School, said: “It’s head teachers here protesting because there’s no one left. We are using people left, right and centre to cover all sorts of jobs in schools.”

Stockport head teacher, Jim Nicholson, said he was fed up with hearing this government line.”We have seen how our colleagues are having to lay off staff and our vulnerable pupils are not getting support. We’d all rather be back in school teaching. But we’ve had enough”.

Some statistics indicate the scale of the problem. The number of children and young people with Education, Health and Care Plans or Statements has increased by 35% in five years. The number of children and young people being educated in specialist schools and colleges went up by 24% during the same period. The number of parents taking Local Authority decisions on EHCP to SEND Tribunal has increased from 3,147 to 5,697 registered appeals from 2014/15 to 2017/18 and of those that go to a full appeal 89% are found in favour of parents. In January 2018, 4,152 children deemed to have special needs had not been found a school place (up from 776 in 2010). Latest exclusion data for 2016/17 show 46.7% of all permanent exclusions (6x the rate for non-disabled pupils) and 44.9% of fixed term exclusions (5x the rate for non disabled pupils) are pupils with identified SEN (14.3% of school population).

To understand how this position has been reached it is essential to understand the mechanisms of how schools are funded and how pupils with SEN are funded. Funding for schools is made up of a number of elements. The DFE give a grant to Local Authorities the Direct Schools’ Grant (DSG).This is calculated on school census data from the previous year and adjusted . The DSG consists of an early years block (£3,542m.), a central services block (£ 460 m) a schools block broken into primary and secondary (£33,683m) and a higher needs block (£6,114m) for SEND. The figures in brackets are the amount distributed to Local Authorities in 2018/19 (total £43,809m). From these amounts relevant money is then recouped for money paid directly to academies and free schools. The money is then allocated to schools.

However, the Local Authority directly allocate funding to all providers on a per pupil basis. The schools’ budget is made up of amount of money per pupil and some basic money, to this is added a notional £6,000 for additional needs based on various indicators such as mobility, free school meals. This is not ring-fenced and does not have to be spent on pupils with additional needs. However, to get money from Higher Needs Budget the school is expected to have spent £10,000 (£4000 AWPU and £6000 additional funding) on a pupil with SEND and show this is not meeting their needs, before the school can draw down additional funding. Local Authorities vary on how they allocate Higher Needs Funding, but for most there has to be a statutory SEN assessment of the pupil before they can access this extra funding for their provision under their Education, Health and Care Plan (until the 2014 Children and Families Act this was a Statement).

There are also extra grants such as Pupil Premium, which is based on numbers eligible for Free School Meals on the roll of the school. Special schools get place funded for a minimum of £10,000 per pupil, usually with additional bands of funding. For schools outside the Local Authority or non maintained or independent schools the LA has to pay the full fee. So though only 6% of students are on Higher Needs provision in this sector it takes 14% of the Higher Needs Budget. Overall over the last four years the switch away from mainstream inclusion has cost an additional estimated £277 million.

The ISOS study for the LGA had returns from 93 English Local Authorities out of 150. They have gone from a net surplus on Higher Needs in 2015/16 to an accumulated deficit of £314 million in 2018/19. If scaled up this is £470 m. Many LAs have been able to vire from other parts of DSG, but this has been largely stopped by Government, or use reserves and there are no more reserves to draw upon. The ISOS Study identifies a number of factors that will exacerbate the funding gap and project a national deficit on higher needs funding of between £1.2 billion and £1.6 billion by 20121. The £125m this year and £125 million for 2019/20 cash injection from Damien Hinds will only slow this deficit accumulation down. The underlying factors need seriously addressing.

Local Authority Higher Needs Budgets are massively overspent and leading to unlawful reductions in funding for those with statutory Education Health and Care Plans. Parents are challenging this and have already halted reductions in Bristol with a Judicial Review. Surrey and Hackney parents are awaiting the outcome of their Judicial Review. The reduction in school budgets is leading to big reductions in support staff and schools’ capacity to include for example, despite secondary pupil numbers rising by 77,090 from 2014 to 2018, the number of teaching assistants (TAs) has been cut by 6,100. Reductions in support staff mean mainstream schools are less likely to effectively include SEND students.

Since the 2014 Act, there has been an increase in students with an EHC Plan and where they are educated is changing. For school age students (4-16) this has gone up from 229,390 in 2013 to 253,680 in 2018, a growth of 10%. The 2014 Act extended the age range for a statement or EHC Plan from 3-19 to 0 to-25 years old. This has led to a much larger growth in numbers on EHCPs from 237,111 in 2014 to 319,819 in 2018 . The growth in numbers with EHC Plans has been in primary education 24 %, only 3% in 11 to 15 years, but has gone up 55% in 16 to 19 years and 16% in post 19. No additional funding was added to the Higher Needs budget for the growth in post 16 funding. There has been an increase in the numbers of children with complex needs due to advances in medical science keeping disabled children alive, austerity and poverty leading to greater trauma in early childhood. The pressure on base budgets is making it more difficult for mainstream schools to support children with SEND.

Although many school staff are still committed to inclusion, national education policies have combined to create an environment where mainstream schools are not rewarded or incentivised to be inclusive. The accountability regime and the new national curriculum with more fact based learning and assessments, inspections, floor targets and Progress 8 do not reward schools that maintain a high level of inclusion. There has been a dramatic drop in secondary schools in particular where academies make up the majority. Between 2014 and 2018 the number of students on SEN Support dropped from 17% (566,120) to 12.3% (399,800). At the same time numbers with a statement or ECHP dropped from 1.9% (59,700) to 1.6% (53,025).

The Special Educational Needs Coordinator in mainstream schools is a statutory requirement and they have to be a qualified teacher and undergo additional training within three years of appointment. In many ways they are the ‘litmus test’ of how well inclusion is going. Therefore the recent NEU/NASEN survey carried out by Bath Spa University is of interest. Of the over 2000 SENCOs taking part (summer 2018) 74% said they did not have enough time to ensure those on SEN Support (1,022,535) could access provision. Only 34% thought they would still be in the role in 5 years and the main reason was lack of resources and lack of time to do the job.
Labour are committed when elected to develop an inclusive education system with special educational needs fully funded. But the pressure forcing more and more children out of mainstream must be stopped. To make this happen the high stakes testing, role of OFSTED and narrow curriculum will need to be replaced. Staff will need sufficient training, local authorities must be allowed to build and develop much more resourced provision and central support teams. All schools will need to be brought back under local democratic control. Disability bullying will need to be effectively tackled. The plethora of independent schools siphoning money out of the Local Authority system must be replaced by local provision. Most of all, schools will need to be incentivised and supported to become properly inclusive and this will be much encouraged by creating a collaborative National Education System which is fully funded and equitable.

Labour Members of Councils need to be coming up with shadow plans about how they will go about developing a fully inclusive education system in their area and what changes will be necessary and what it will cost. We will not be able to do everything at once when Labour form a Government so these plans should outline priorities.

Richard Rieser
Islington North CLP Disability Officer and World of Inclusion