£215 million cash boost for local areas to improve SEND facilities

The Department for Education has today announced £215 million funding for SEND. It's to be split between almost every English council to both create more school places and to improve facilities for children with disabilities.

Some local areas get £500k, others get over £6 million and a couple get nothing at all. The cash can be used to build specialised classrooms, install lifts or expand existing classrooms. This, says the DfE, will help, "...transform the lives of thousands of children with special educational needs and disabilities, by increasing school capacity and making it easier for them to access good school places."

£215 million cash boost for local areas to improve SEND facilities

How is the cash split up?

As already mentioned, almost every local council's allocation is at least £500,000 to enable them to expand and improve their Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) provision, with more than half receiving at least £1 million. 150 local authorities receive an allocation but the outpost of the Isles of Scilly and the City of London at the other extreme are not included in the cash bounty. It doesn't say why, although the IoS as far as I can remember has very few SEND pupils.

But here's a potential problem, if you're the type who doesn't especially trust local authorities: Councils will be free to invest the funding as they see fit to help children and young people with education, health and care plans to get a high quality education.

It may be that the DfE has similar thoughts by stating that councils will be expected to consult with local parents, carers, schools, and others on how their funding allocation should be used. Each council will then be required to publish a short plan showing how they will spend the funding.

The investment can be used in mainstream schools, including academies, free schools and grammar schools, special units, special schools, early years settings, further education colleges or other provision for children and young people aged from 0-25... Total funding for children and young people with high needs will be over £5.3 billion this year.

The DfE's made a few spending suggestions such as building new specialised classrooms for children with emotional, social and mental health difficulties, expanding existing classrooms to increase their size for those using mobility aids or perhaps creating storage facilities for wheelchairs if needed. Then, further down the news release, it says:

Councils can use their allocation to:

  • Create a learning kitchen so that children and young people can learn to prepare food and gain skills for independent living.
  • Build a new sensory room.
  • Create a new hygiene suite attached to a classroom, so that children’s hygiene needs can be met without taking time away from their learning.
  • Buy mobility equipment.
  • Expand a special unit attached to a good or outstanding mainstream school.‎

So it's not totally clear if local areas really can decide for themselves, in consultation, what to spend it on or if the spending needs to be up to them, within these stated boundaries.

Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, Edward Timpson, said:

 “This Government is determined to build a country that works for everyone - a country where every child has an equal opportunity to reach their full potential regardless of their background, and any‎ challenges they may face. 
“We’ve already made the biggest changes for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in a generation, but we want to go further and build on that success. 
“Our multi-million pound investment will enable local councils to build new classrooms and improve facilities for pupils‎, ensuring that no child is left behind.”

I think it's a bit of an exaggeration calling the SEND reforms a success, given that non-profits are having to form expert SEND flying squads to show schools struggling with special needs how it's done.  Added to that, no local area yet inspected by Ofsted/CQC has been given more than a reverse shit sandwich (bad-good-bad) for its SEND performance report, and several, considerably worse.

"This new fund follows the £23 million that has already been recently allocated to local authorities to support them to review their provision for children and young people with SEN and disabilities and make strategic plans to get the best outcomes."

Is this new money?

When faced with funding announcements, I can always feel a headache start to form between my eyes. But although I'm no funding expert myself, I happen to know someone who understands this sort of stuff and I asked them to explain it to me and I paraphrase our chat below.

Basically, it does look like a new grant but again, it’s hard to tell whether the grant is actually ring-fenced or not. More importantly, it isn't clear whether the £215m has been plucked out of the DfE High Needs Block settlement for 2017-18, or whether it’s extra money on top of it. If it was brand-new money, wouldn't the DfE have said so? I have emailed the DfE to ask if it is ring-fenced and I will update it here when I hear back.

However, where it says councils will be free to spend the money as they see fit to help children with EHCPs to get a high-quality education, is most likely to just mean, 'councils will be free to spend the money as they see fit' full stop. And so far, it seems neither Ofsted / CQC nor the DfE have shown much interest in checking whether the SEND reform grants have been wisely or even lawfully spent.

If it isn't ring-fenced, you may want to seek assurances from your council that it will be spent as intended, so I advise you to contact them to ask how you can be involved in their consultation for spending it (as required by the DfE). They will doubtless approach their local PCF, but there is nothing to say parents who are not members cannot be involved in this consultation. Indeed, I would like to be involved with ours in Surrey.

So, if this grant is something that’s being given on top of the high Needs Block funding, then that’s a good thing (basically a 4% boost). But unless the grant is sustained over several years and unless it’s ring-fenced, it isn't likely to make more than a tiny dent in the financial position of most LAs, given the wider context of cuts. The examples of potential uses for the grant seem appropriate – but they won’t pay to keep the new facilities or capacity running long-term.

Who gets what?

So I know you're itching to see who gets what. The amounts range from £500k to £6.9 million in total, with Hertfordshire and Kent bagging over £6 million each and Surrey and Essex just behind with just under the £6 million mark each. These are all large, South-East counties and those that have been inspected for their SEND provision have received very poor reports to say the least. However, I do not know how the money was split between authorities.

Download the local area allocations as a PDF | Download the local area allocations as an Open Document Spreadsheet PDF

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Tania Tirraoro
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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two sons with Asperger Syndrome. Trustee, Genetic Alliance UK.
Journalist & author of two novels and a guide to SEN statementing. PR & social media expert. Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate.
Tania Tirraoro
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  • L Thomas

    Could be helpful, not enough but need some infrastructure in Herts. ..fingers crossed. Seems to be more than the £3m uplift expected for ENF ..so may be new. Needs ring fencing and scrutiny though.

  • Planet Autism

    “It may be that the DfE has similar thoughts by stating that councils will be expected to consult with local parents, carers, schools, and others on how their funding allocation should be used. Each council will then be required to publish a short plan showing how they will spend the funding.”

    Consulting just means having a chat and filling in a questionnaire. It does not mean they will pay heed or take action on what parents tell them is needed for their children. They will clearly be making the decision they want regardless of what parents say. The clue is in the way these things are always worded. They may even have a legal duty to consult, but that is where the duty ends usually.

    And the problem is it seems to be for mainstream settings, where inclusion does not work for autistic children this money is likely to make very little difference.

    • The money is for capital spending for facilities, so not necessarily for children with autism. It explains in the post what the money is for.

      • Planet Autism

        This would be relevant to children with autism:

        “Councils can use their allocation to:

        Build a new sensory room.‎”

        A sensory room is no good if the child cannot cope in the school when they are not in the sensory room.

  • Planet Autism

    Confused where you got the sum of £215m though as the Government website says it’s £80m?

    https://www.gov.uk/government/news/80-million-to-boost-support-for-special-educational-needs

    • From the DfE embargoed press release they sent to me.

      • Planet Autism

        Thanks, I had seen that link elsewhere on a forum and trusted the source! Someone else had since pointed this out as well.

  • Oooh, how exciting. I wonder whether we will get any bases in our county now? Or any other form of provision that may fit the gap between MLD and mainstream? But of course, then that wouldn’t be helping those who should be in MLD or mainstream but who aren’t… sounds like a lot, but works out a little in the grand scheme of things. Still, catch me on another day and I’ll attempt to be a little more positive about it all 😉