Budget 2020: Show us the money for SEND!

with Matt Keer, SNJ columnist & SEND funding guru

Budget 2020: Show us the money for SEND!

It’s budget day this week and we think it’s imperative the Government flashes the cash for SEND. While it repeatedly trumpets the £780 million it gave last year every time it's challenged, that is a tiny fraction of what’s needed.

And, as we reported last week, the new restrictions on the High Needs Block will only serve to make the situation worse. Read the actions you can take to try to fight this decision on the SEND Community Alliance site here

Before we tell you what's on our wishlist, it's worth having a quick flashback...

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Public Accounts Committee reumes its SEND funding inquiry

While the DfE is still considering its SEND Review, later today, the Public Accounts Committee resumes its inquiry into SEND spending. It held one oral evidence session in September at which our own Matt Keer was among those giving evidence, before it was halted by the election last December. Today it restarts with further oral hearings. You can read our post about the PAC Inquiry here

The PAC will be hearing evidence from Jonathan Slater, Permanent Secretary at Department for Education, the Deputy Director of SEND, Suzanne Lunn, and long-time DfE SEND Adviser André Imich.

Last July, before it's SEND Inquiry report, the Education Select Committee published a report into education funding (see our report here) and found:

Special educational needs and disability funding is completely inadequate. There is simply not enough money in the system to provide for the scale of demand. Local authorities are expected to face a funding shortfall in excess of £1 billion by 2021. The post–16 sector in particular is having to deal with significant challenges in the context of enormous funding constraints. This is not sustainable.”

A Ten Year Plan For School And College Funding, Education Select Committee

A few months later, in September 2019, the National Audit Office published its own report into SEND funding and found:

"The Department does not know the impact of the support provided for pupils with SEND… …the Department has not specified, in measurable terms, the outcomes it wants to achieve from its support for pupils with SEND.”

National Audit Office report on SEND funding

It was in the wake of this that the Public Accounts Committee launched its own inquiry.

“The NAO have found that, since 2014, the number of children with the greatest needs has been growing and that more of them now have an EHC plan. However, the NAO has also found that Government funding has not been keeping pace with this increase. This means that councils are regularly overspending their budgets for supporting SEND pupils and this makes the system unsustainable.
The NAO also found that the Government has not been clear on what it wants the outcomes to be of SEND intervention and so it is difficult to say if it is meeting its goals. The Government also failed to work out how much the 2014 reforms would cost the public purse.
The Committee will be scrutinising the Department for Education on this and other issues relating to SEND.”

Public Accounts Committee

PAC Key Facts:

• 2.6% real-terms reduction in funding for each pupil with high needs between 2013-14 and 2017-18
• 32.4% real-terms increase in local authorities’ spending on independent special schools between 2013-14 and 2017-18
• 44.9% proportion of permanent exclusions involving children with SEND in 2017/18
• 50.0% proportion of inspected local authority areas that Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission had assessed as underperforming at July 2019
• 81.3% proportion of local authorities that overspent their high-needs budget in 2017-18

If you're of a mind to, you can follow today's proceedings of the PAC here.

So what do we want to see in the Budget? Matt Keer muses...

This week's Budget isn't likely to tell us much about the long-term future of SEND funding. The major decisions will probably be taken later this year, once the Treasury has completed its Spending Review and the Department for Education has something to report from its internal SEND review. 

The big decisions around spending will be whether to keep increasing the size of the high-needs SEND budget past 2021 - something that parents, schools, and local government are screaming for - and whether a new way can be found to help LAs manage the ballooning high-needs deficits they've built up. But while increases in funding are very necessary, they aren't sufficient by themselves to fix the problems in the SEND system.

However, if our SEND fairy godmother granted some wishes it would be:

  • An extra £1 billion added to the high needs block for 2021-22, waiving existing LA cumulative high needs block deficits.
  • The Disabled Children’s Partnership (of which SNJ is a member) says there is a £434 million funding gap in children’s social care. That means that, every day, disabled children are missing out on £1.2 million of support. This would be a very good time to fill the gap. You can read the DCPs three ‘Pillars’ to deliver better support and care for disabled children and their families here
  • To ensure the DfE knows the impact of its funding for SEND, there needs to be tighter accountability on local authority compliance with the Children and Families’ Act legislation. There also needs to be greater freedom for LAs to build more specialist capacity.
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And please stop nicking the delegated SEND Budget!

Not forgetting our long-time call for ringfencing for the notional SEND budget to ensure that children without EHCPs have more chance of having their needs met. If the money meant for lower levels of SEND is used (out of desperation, perhaps) for general school needs, then the children, whose needs may well have been met in mainstream with the right support, will suffer. This is one of the biggest reasons for parents feeling like they have no option but to apply for an EHCP.

Lack of prompt support and no funding for emerging, or lower-level needs, means these children's difficulties increase. They fall further behind and it damages their education and their life chances. Any parent who sees this happening to their child will want to find an urgent solution themselves. And that often means seeking statutory support from an EHCP, perhaps a specialist placement, or even resorting to home education because they feel it's their only route. It ain't rocket science.

The DfE response that it's 'never been ringfenced' is no response at all. Just do it - and ensure you increase general school funding at the same time. Without that, preventing schools from using the notional SEND budget for anything other than SEND, may leave many schools with insufficient funds to keep the lights on.

Also read:

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  • Books SNJ recommends
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  • SEND Community Alliance Join us

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Tania Tirraoro
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