As you will have seen from Matt's article last week about the number of Education, Health and Care Plans being issued, the number of children with disabilities needing statutory support is rising. So it's good news that today, the SEND Minister, Nadim Zahawi, is announcing an additional £50 million capital funding for "children with additional needs" to go on "good" school places (whatever that means) and to improve facilities.
The cash is intended as a "boost to create additional school places and state-of-the-art facilities for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), giving families more choice and helping to meet increasing demand". So it's clear that the DfE has got the message from last week's figures that more needs to be done to fund placements for children with increasingly complex needs.
Here's what Mr Zahawi said:
“All parents want to send their child to a good local school, one that meets their individual needs and supports them to achieve their full potential, regardless of the challenges they may face. This funding will help to create thousands more school places across the country, with a clear focus on transforming the experience of education for children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND).
"Today’s announcement aims to remove some of the barriers to a good education for children with additional needs and make sure Britain is a country that truly works for everyone. The funding brings the total investment in new school places for children with additional needs to £265million, following the announcement of a £215million fund last year.
"Over half the councils in England will receive more than £225,000 to increase places or improve schools for children with SEND, and every council will receive at least £115,000." Nadim Zahawi, Minister for SEND (England)
This is on top of the £680 million announced in the budget for 40,000 "new good school places", which are not SEND specific. Then it says, "91% of school places created last year were in good or outstanding schools, new figures show." There's that 'good' word again. Does it mean that for families stuck in a school with a less-than-good Ofsted rating won't get a look in? These are the places that need it most, surely? It may not mean this at all, but it's far from clear, is it?
So what happened to inclusion?
The information continues:
Today’s boost could help create around 740 more special school places and provide new specialist facilities to support children with complex needs, such as sensory rooms and playgrounds with specialist equipment.
So, the SEND Code of Practice says that children with disabilities should be educated in mainstream settings as much as possible (I paraphrase), but this money which is not part of the £680m, apparently, is for special school places and facilities. The devil is in the detail though - is it also to enable mainstream schools to be better able to educate disabled children in the nearest local school? Or is it to provide more places in a child's nearest special school? That'll be up to the LAs receiving the money.
Being fair, it's a bit of a no-win situation for the DfE. The notion of total inclusion is a grand one, but while the CoP alludes to this ideal, in practice, mainstream schools today are not set up, either in facilities or skilled staff, to make it a reality. In any case, inclusion is more than about putting disabled kids into a one-size-fits-all setting, no matter how accessible that setting may be. It's about attitudes and finding ways for every child's needs to be met, without exception. And let's face it, it would take a heck of a lot more than £50 million to make it happen.
While I know that inclusion in mainstream education means a great deal to many, including ALLFIE, for just as many families, the current reality of a mainstream setting with large class sizes, intolerance and a lack of appropriately trained staff is perhaps the worst setting they could imagine for their child. Increasing the number of places in specialist provision is exactly what they want to see, when special schools are currently bursting at the seams. And most LAs don't have enough nurturing yet ambitious schools for children with high-functioning ASD, PDA or ADHD who too often end up either out of school completely or in special schools that don't offer the range of qualifications they are truly capable of. If some of this money goes on provision like this, it will certainly be well-spent.
So this money is going to be very welcome, although it'll be down to local politics to decide who gets what from their allocation. It's unlikely the DfE will ring-fence in this way to stop cash-strapped local authorities doing a shifty bit of sleight of hand with it.
The £680million includes the basic need allocations to 2021. So, in theory, this could include money to make schools more inclusive, but given the dire financial state many are currently in, I can't imagine increasing inclusivity is exactly on the top of their 'to do' list.
Which brings me to this...
What happened to last year's announced £215 million?
Today's announcement included this:
"The additional investment in school places for children with additional needs announced today (Tuesday 29 May) builds on the £215million fund announced last year to ensure children with SEND had access to a good school place. Today’s boost could help create around 740 more special school places and provide new specialist facilities to support children with complex needs, such as sensory rooms and playgrounds with specialist equipment."
We wrote about that £215 million last March 2017, which was available from April 2018 over three years. However, from what we've been able to find out, local authorities didn't appear to be in much of a hurry to stick to the DfE conditions that they consult with parents. I didn't have much time to search, but did find some info from Buckinghamshire, Hartlepool and St Helens, whose consultation has only just closed - what took them so long, considering they've had since last March when it was announced? We'd like to know what your LA is spending it on and if they consulted with parents. Please email me this information about your local area, preferably a link to the consultation that should be on your Local Offer site and if you were consulted.
Update 29th May about allocations and more on the £215 million:
The DfE has released more information about today's news:
The special provision fund allocations first announced on 4 March 2017 (TT: ie, the £215 million) support local authorities (LAs) to make capital investments in provision for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. Local authorities can invest in new places and improvements to facilities for pupils with education, health and care (EHC) plans in mainstream and special schools, nurseries, colleges and other provision.
The funding is not ringfenced or timebound, so local authorities can make the best decisions for their areas. Local authorities are required to verify this funding has been spent on capital projects through the section 151 officer's return.
Allocations for 2018-19 to 2020-21: These allocations, totalling £215 million, were originally announced in March 2017. Every local authority was allocated at least £500,000. On 29th May 2018, we announced £50 million additional grant funding, taking total investment to £265 million for the financial years 2018-19 to 2020-21. The additional funding has been split between local authorities by increasing every allocation by 50/215ths, leading to a new minimum allocation of £616,000 per authority.
The formula for the allocation made in 2017 was based principally on projected population growth for children and young people aged 2-18 between the years 2018-19 and 2020-21. Location factors were also applied to take into account the varied costs of building in different regions. We have now topped up the lowest allocations so that local authorities receive at least £616,000. As in the original allocations, the City of London and the Isles of Scilly will not receive an allocation. These allocations are provided in addition to the basic need capital funding that local authorities receive to support the capital requirement for providing new pupil places.
Don't forget to submit your views to the Education Committee Inquiry into SEND. You have a couple of weeks left.
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She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
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