Special needs provision in England has lost out on £1.2bn because of shortfalls in funding increases from central government since 2015.
The National Education Union has found that SEND funding granted to local authorities from central government since 2015 has failed to keep up with rapidly increasing demand for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision.
The number of children and young people granted an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP – a legal document stating a child’s legal entitlement to funding for further support for severe and complex educational needs), has risen from 240,000 to 320,000 since 2015 – an increase of 33%. However, funding for the high needs block (the budget reserved to fund such additional provision) has only increased by 6% over the same period, from £5.6bn to £6bn in today’s prices.
One reason for the rapid increase in demand lies in the extension of EHCP provision to young people with additional needs aged 19-25 – a policy which was unplanned and insufficiently funded.
This translates into massive funding shortfalls for 93% of local authorities across England, resulting in losses of invaluable support staff, increased waiting times for SEN assessment and cuts to specialist provision.
Local authorities have now reached crisis point, with 9 out of 10 facing shortfalls of thousands, or even millions, of pounds. Several have also faced gruelling legal battles, as parents of children with SEND have taken local authorities to court for failing to provide the support their child has a statutory right to through the provision detailed in their EHCP.
With funding increases failing to match the rapidly increasing need, local authorities are simply unable to provide schools with the adequate resources for effective SEND provision. As such, a group of parents have launched a High Court legal challenge against central government’s special education needs funding policy, demanding that government provide the funds required by LAs to provide adequate SEND education.
The National Education Union’s campaign to increase SEND funding won an additional £350 million to support children and young people with additional needs.
However, central government has admitted that “more needs to be done”.
Commenting on the research, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“The funding shortfall for SEND provision comes against the backdrop of the swingeing cuts to local authority budgets imposed by the Westminster Government over the last 9 years which have left many councils on the brink.
"Between 2010 and 2020, councils will have lost almost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided for services. This is an appalling way to be addressing the education of some of our most vulnerable children and young people and is causing untold misery and worry for thousands of families.”
Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“The NEU is appalled at the continued off-rolling and illegal exclusion of too many SEND pupils and wants the government to address the underlying pressures which lead schools to take such action. Schools need to be empowered to offer a broad and balanced curriculum for all. The NEU will work with all education professionals to design an inclusive curriculum which enables all pupils to thrive.
“This week the NEU revealed that special needs provision in England has lost out on £1.2bn because of shortfalls in funding increases from central government since 2015. This means that children with SEND do not get the support they need. Parents resort to legal action to try to secure their children’s rights.
“The Government needs to listen to professionals and SEND specialists and take action now to stop the crisis in the education of SEND pupils. We need a flexible curriculum with a relaxation of the testing culture in schools to ensure a more inclusive system for all.”
Minister for Children and Families, Nadhim Zahawi, said:
“We have increased spending on high needs from £5 billion in 2013 to £6.3 billion this year and it is not right to imply funding has been cut.
“We recognise the challenges facing local authorities and in December provided an extra £250 million up to 2020 to help them manage high needs cost pressures. We have also provided councils with an extra £100 million funding to create more SEND places in mainstream schools, colleges and special schools.
“Our ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is exactly the same for every other child – to achieve well in education, go on to college or university, and to live happy and fulfilled lives.”
Further information from DfE:
On top of this we will provide councils with an extra £100m of capital funding to create more SEND places in mainstream schools, colleges and special schools. This could include more facilities, such as sensory rooms and specialist equipment.
In December we also announced other ways in which we are helping local authorities and schools manage the pressures they are facing, such as building more special schools where they are needed and training more educational psychologists. But we also recognise that more needs to be done.
We are of course be looking carefully at the overall level of funding, in the context of the forthcoming spending review. And that it is distributed fairly: we will continue to monitor the impact of the new national funding formula on local authorities.