£300 million for SEND school places. But how does it improve inclusion and equality?

At the end of yesterday’s Treasury spending review document, the catchily entitled “SR20”, Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said it, “ensured that the decisions made considered the possible impact on people with a disability to ensure they receive the support they need.” (Accessible PDF here)

Thanks Rishi, but I think disabled people themselves and their families, will be the judge of that when we find out more about what it entails. Because the government likes to bandy around big numbers, but then you always find the devil is always in the detail.

So when it announced “an additional £300 million next year for new SEND school places” you don’t really know what that actually means. If these are places just for children with SEND, then are they in units in mainstream? Or has the government quietly consigned to the bin the idea of every disabled child having the presumption of being educated in a mainstream school? Is the government admitting that inclusion isn't possible without a wholesale revamp of the system that it isn't prepared to fund? Because while there is money for "maintaining and improving" school buildings, it doesn't mention making them accessible.

 “additional 300 million in 2021-22 for new school places for children with special educational needs and disabilities, almost four times as much as the government provided to local authorities in 2020-21.” 

Spending Review 2020

Perhaps the government is just being realistic. With disabled children being prevented from returning to school in the pandemic, their parents choosing home education in record numbers, children being excluded because their needs aren't being met, or just not being able to find a suitable place to start off with, the government could just be taking the pragmatic approach.

If you accept that we have what we have and you're not going to completely overhaul it, then better to create places (relatively) quickly that can provide the right kind of education. It's cheaper than making the education system accessible for all. Pragmatic, but not equitable. And indeed, children like my own thrived in specialist education because mainstream is what mainstream is, and you can only deal with what you have, not what is the ideal solution in an ideal world.

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Does money mean improvements?

The announcement was part of a number of measures for education, with the one-year spending review settlement for the Department for Education providing a:

 “ £2.9 billion cash increase in core resource funding from 2020-21 to 2021-22, delivering a 3.2 per cent average real terms increase per year since 2019-20. The department’s capital budget increases by £0.5 billion in cash terms next year, taking core total DEL to £76.4 billion. Average real growth in core total DEL is 3.4 per cent per year from 2019-20 to 2021-22. “

Spending Review 2020

See what I mean? Some people, like our Matt Keer, love numbers like this. He will be burrowing away in the coming weeks to find out what it all means, as well as looking into what happened to the £780 million previously announced for SEND. 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but despite said £780m, I am not aware of any great improvements in the recent experiences of disabled children. Of course, it’s been a bit crap, to say the least, for everyone this year, but disabled and vulnerable children – especially those who are “looked after” by the state, have fared the worst, with their rights put into stasis for months during the first lockdown. 

So you’ve got to raise an eyebrow or two when in this document, the Treasury talks about how, “in line with the government’s legal duties and its commitment to equalities, care has been taken to ensure that ministerial decisions at Spending Review 2020 (SR20) are informed by assessments of their impacts for those from protected characteristics.”

Because just two days ago, the government's very own Education Secretary, a Mr G Williamson, was found to have acted unlawfully in failing to consult the Children’s Commissioner for England, and other children’s rights organisations, before making “substantial and wide-ranging” changes to legal protections for England’s 78,000 children in care.

“In his judgment, Lord Justice Baker accepted the submission, made by Jenni Richards QC on behalf of children’s rights charity Article 39, that the Department for Education had consulted “on an entirely one-sided basis and excluded those most directly affected by the changes”

Had children’s rights organisations “been included, the Secretary of State would have unquestionably been better informed about the impact of the proposed amendments on the vulnerable children most affected by them” [83], he added. 

Article 39 launched the legal challenge after the government removed and watered down 65 safeguards for children in care in England, through The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020. Parliament was given no time to debate the changes; the Regulations were introduced on 23 April and came into force the very next day.”

Article 39

What else does the Spending Review say about children with SEND?

6.16 SR20 supports the government’s commitment to level up education standards by providing for an increase in the schools budget from £47.6 billion in 2020-21 to £49.8 billion in 2021-22 – an increase of £2.2 billion. This reaffirms the government’s commitment at Spending Round 2019 (SR19) to increase the core schools budget by £7.1 billion by 2022-23, compared to 2019-20 funding levels – with the government’s three-year investment representing the biggest funding boost for schools in a decade. “

Spending Review 2020

So far, so blah. Not to seem rude, but it's just a jumble of numbers that could be great, or could mean not much at all. So, drilling down, this includes - and I quote:

  • further detail on the government’s ten-year school rebuilding programme. The programme will launch with a commitment to 50 new school rebuilding projects a year across England 
  • investment of £1.8 billion in 2021-22 to maintain and improve the condition of school buildings 
  • £300 million in 2021-22 for new school places for children with special educational needs and disabilities, almost four times as much as the government provided to local authorities in 2020-21 
  • funding towards meeting the government’s commitment to £1.5 billion to bring all Further Education college estates in England up to a good condition 
  • £83 million in 2021-22 to ensure that post-16 providers can accommodate the expected demographic increase in 16 to 19-year-olds 
  • £64 million in 2021-22 for the Student Loan Company, including for its transformation programme 
  • £162 million in 2021-22 to support the rollout of T Levels wave 2 and 3 
  • £72 million in 2021-22 to support the commitment to build 20 Institutes of Technology
  • £24 million in 2021-22 to start a new programme to maintain capacity and expand provision in secure children’s homes. This will provide high quality, safe homes for some of our most vulnerable children and will mean children can live closer to their families and support networks, in settings that meet their needs. 

Not sure why the Student Loan Company needs government money. But judging by the fact that it got my youngest's student loan award wrong for the last three years in a row, it should probably spend a bit on training.

Anything else in SR20 for education?

The DfE settlement also: 

  • £22 million to continue improving the quality of teaching, including funding for mentor time as part of the Early Careers Framework. (No mention of whether this includes SEND training in particular)
  • Funding towards delivering a £220 million Holiday Activities and Food programme to provide enriching activities and a healthy meal for disadvantaged children in the Easter, summer and Christmas holidays in 2021. This provides funding up to the end of 2021-22 and supports the government’s commitment to establish a Flexible Childcare Fund to increase the availability of high quality and affordable flexible childcare (Thanks, Marcus Rashford)
  • £44 million for early years education in 2021-22 to increase the hourly rate paid to childcare providers for the government’s free hours offers. This is on top of the £66 million increase confirmed last year. (That is if there are any early years providers left after this year)
  • Funding to prepare for a UK-wide domestic alternative to Erasmus+, in the event that the UK no longer participates in Erasmus+, to fund outward global education mobilities. The government will set out further details in due course. (How cheery - a great program needlessly put at risk)

Other inclusions:

  • £1 billion of spending for social care through a £300 million of social care grant and the ability to levy a 3 per cent adult social care precept. This funding is additional to the £1 billion social care grant announced last year which is being maintained. The government expects to provide local authorities with over £3 billion to address Covid-19 pressures, including in adult social care. 
  • Funding for the Disabled Facilities Grant: SR20 includes an investment of £573 million in Disabled Facilities Grants and £71 million in the Care and Support Specialised Housing Fund, supporting people to live independently (DFGs have a very long waiting list for vital adaptations - will this make a difference?)
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What does Matt say?

This post is realty just a marker, so we have an easy-to-find record of what was included to refer back to. So no analysis from me, just a few snarky comments. But this is what our king of stats Matt Keer has to say: 

“It's still unclear whether this is genuinely new money, or whether the Department for Education has had to chop and change other spending plans to make it happen. Is this good news? If you think that there should be more spaces at special schools and specialist units, then the answer's yes - although it'll take several years to turn the money into new spaces, and there's no guarantee that the new places will turn up in the right places, meeting the right types of need. But if you strongly believe that kids with SEND should be educated in mainstream schools with non-SEND peers, then this announcement will be disappointing - it'll reinforce a view where SEND is seen as specialist, different, and sometimes someone else's problem."

Matt Keer, Special Needs Jungle's statistics guru

Richard Kramer, Chief Executive of national disability charity Sense, said:

“Today’s spending review is a huge disappointment for our sector. The social care system has been chronically underfunded and undervalued for years with successive governments failing to deliver both immediate and long-term funding solutions. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the overstretched system and worsened inequalities for disabled people and their families. Already under huge pressure, they face more difficult months ahead with restrictions to their care and support.

“Today’s promised £1 billion for social care, the majority of which has to be raised by overstretched local authorities through mechanisms like council tax, is barely touching the surface of what the sector and disabled people relying on social care need. The Health Foundation estimates £6.1 billion is needed in 2021/22 to stabilise the social care system and lay the foundations for any future reform. Government has yet again failed to support social care and deliver on their promise to reform and fund a struggling system. They are ignoring the pain felt by disabled people and their families, when needs are rising and the impact and strains on the NHS are clear.”

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