Early Christmas for SEND, or Scrooge dressed up as Santa?

Early Christmas for SEND or is it Scrooge dressed up Santa?

The Department for Education has announced a £350 million funding package to support children with complex needs and disabilities, along with a number of other interesting initiatives. 

The surprise cash includes £100 million capital investment to provide more specialist places in mainstream schools, alongside new special schools and colleges.

The DfE says local authorities will receive an additional £250 million over the next two years, on top of, “...the £6 billion already provided for the high needs budget this year, to provide much needed support for children and young people with complex SEND”.

The funding to pay for additional teaching and other support, breaks down as: 

  • An additional £125million of high needs funding for 2018/19 
  • £125million of high needs funding for 2019/20. 

 All LAs in England are included except the Isles of Scilly and City of London, presumably because they have tiny numbers of children, let alone children with SEND.

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More SEND school places

The government has also announced an additional £100m of SEND capital funding in 2019-20, for LAs to invest in improved facilities and more school places.  That includes new special free schools as Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, confirms he will, “…approve all high quality bids in the current round of special and alternative provision free schools applications.” This, it says takes, “...total capital funding to £365m from 2018 to 2021…”. It says the funding could “include more state-of-the-art facilities, such as sensory rooms and specialist equipment.”

Hold on a minute… in March 2017 they offered LAs a share of £215 million last year for facilities. That time, LAs had to tell the DfE how they would spend it before they could get hold of it, presumably so it didn't disappear to plug other council shortfalls. That was the first tranche of capital funding,  then in May this year, they added £50 million to the total grant value. Now, they’re adding a further £100 million, taking it to £365m. How has your LA spent theirs so far? 

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

“We recognise that the high needs budget faces significant pressures and this additional investment will help local councils to manage those pressures, whilst being able to invest to provide more support.... Every school or college should be one for a young person with special educational needs; every teacher should be equipped to teach them, and families need to feel supported.”

Funding for Educational Psychologists

The Government has also confirmed an expansion of funding to train more educational psychologists. “From September 2020 there will be a further three training rounds and an increase in the number of trainees from 160 to at least 206, to help keep up with demand for this specialist advice.”

This is something that will be very welcome, as existing Ed Psychs are loathe to work for LAs because they spend most of their time doing assessments for growing numbers of EHCP requests. This leaves little to no time left for more interesting (and beneficial) early intervention work or providing support strategies for teachers to use. It’s incredibly hard for many schools to get an Ed Psych visit, with many finding access is severely limited or even rationed by the LA. 

“I welcome today’s announcement from the Department for Education, which is good news for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and their families.  Our inspections show that we still have a long way to go before children and young people with SEND are getting all the support they deserve.

"In too many local areas, the implementation of the 2014 SEND reforms is not living up to expectations.... “We are halfway through our inspections of local areas and have just started to re-visit areas where inspectors have identified significant concerns. We will continue to give real weight to the experience of children and young people with SEND in our inspections of schools.”

Ofsted HMCI, Amanda Spielman
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SEND leadership board

The announcement also talks about a new advisory SEND System Leadership Board, including local health, social care, and education services, and will work closely with charities, school and families. We’ll have more news about this next year.  One thing it's hoped to do is encourage better joint commissioning of local services between LA education and social care services and the NHS.

A timely announcement…

This news will please the Local Government Association, the body that represents local councils, but the timing will be bittersweet. That's because the LGA has some brand new research it was publishing today, calling for an “emergency injection of funds” to provide a temporary solution to the crisis facing SEND funding. 

The LGA says councils are facing a potential funding gap of up to £1.6 BILLION by 2020. Its analysis, by the Isos Partnership, forecasts that the current SEND funding deficit could DOUBLE to an estimated £806 million next year, based on historical trends. It claims this could continue to rise to between £1.2 billion and £1.6 billion in 2020/21.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The current system…is at a tipping point, and in need of an emergency injection of funding just to keep services afloat. Councils have done all they can, but the reality is the money is not there to keep up with the unprecedented demand they are experiencing.”

And then, BOOM! As if to steal their thunder, the DfE makes this announcement. On a Sunday. The same day the LGA’s report was due to be published. A coincidence? Dear readers, there are no coincidences, especially not in politics. So while on the one hand, the LGA will be pleased that they've likely forced the government's hand, it will also be hoping its own research doesn't get overlooked - because the new funding nowhere near plugs the gap the LGA highlights. 

So let’s not ignore the LGA’s research in the clamour over the DfE funding. The LGA says councils have almost exhausted their reserves to make up a projected £472 million shortfall. Its report reveals that 97% of the 93 councils who responded to its survey, say they expect their SEND spending to continue to increase. Meanwhile, more than 80% are not confident they will be able to balance their budgets in future.

The pressures in the pipes

We know what the pressures are: the implementation of the reforms brought an expansion of the right to statutory support up to the age of 25. This was great for young people with SEND, but the government either underestimated, or forgot, to provide a corresponding expansion of funding to match.

Additionally, there are increasing numbers of children who need support (for various reasons), but cuts to the services that provide that support. And that means more parents find themselves compelled to apply for legally enforceable, specific provision or specialist schools. And as Matt reported last week, when LAs try to stop them getting it, the SEND Tribunal finds parents are right almost nine times out of ten. 

Reviews and research 

The LGA’s now calling for the Government to launch a national review of SEND provision to overhaul of the support for disabled children. It wants this to include “a fundamental reboot” of the commissioning powers councils need, as well as "rethinking what is needed to address the pressures that are driving ever-greater demand". They want councils to be given powers to ensure schools, health and social care all share costs associated with SEND, rather than it just being a local government responsibility. And they have a point, because at present, local NHS can - and often do - flatly refuse to cough up their share of provision in an EHCP

But just as the LGA make their call for a review, BOOM! along comes the DfE again, today announcing the launch of something called ‘SEN Futures’. This is what it describes as, “..a flagship package of long-term research and analysis to provide evidence on the impact of current SEN provision on children and young people’s outcomes, and to assess the value for money of SEN provision in England. Procurement for the first pieces of work in this programme will begin tomorrow (Monday 17 December).” 

To better understand the financial incentives that influence how schools, colleges and councils support children and young people with special educational needs, the Department for Education will be gathering more evidence in the New Year. This will include looking at the first £6,000 schools pay for SEND support costs before accessing additional funding from local high needs budgets.

Department for Education press release 15/12/18

Not quite a “fundamental reboot”, but enough to say they’re doing something. 

Headteacher Jules White of the Worth Less? SEND funding campaign reacted with cynicism to the news, fearing it may not be what it seems.

"Damian Hinds’ additional commitment to provide £250m over two years to help cover the High Needs Block is obviously better than a poke in the eye but it’s way too little, way too late. It doesn’t even cover LA High Needs shortfalls now. Yet again there is no money to help schools support SEND pupils day in day out. We can’t help the most deserving children now and again our budget pleas are being ignored. 

"Of even greater concern is the fact that this does not appear to be ‘new money’ in any way shape or form. If this is the usual Department for Education trick of dressing up a funding announcement whilst taking money from schools and LAs budgets elsewhere it would be a cruel trick indeed. As one area sees cash an increase are we going to see other crucial related services - counselling, children’s wellbeing, staffing levels - get battered at the same time?

Jules White, Worth Less? Campaign

SNJ’s view

So immediately, 150 local authorities will share £125m to cover the last three months of this financial year until the end of March. It’ll help to staunch the bleeding and will  slightly reduce the High Needs Block deficit that almost all LAs are continuing to rack up. It might help a few of them avoid total meltdown - but it’s not enough to make a game-changing difference.

Looking at the year from March 2019 onwards, £125m is simply inadequate; it’s a 2% increase on the size of next year’s HNB. It won’t allow LAs to even keep pace with the growing funding problem, let alone overcome it. 

With reference to the LGA projections, £125m won’t mop up an expected £800m deficit for 2019-2020. And when you consider the LGA figures, bear in mind that all their projections have current default LA SEND policy baked into them, lots of which isn’t lawful, as Jessie Hewitson revealed in The Times on Saturday.

Jessie's report pointed to a number of LAs whose policies on their websites were brazenly illegal, with Shropshire for one, demanding schools provide 12 pieces of evidence of a child’s SEND when they request an EHCP assessment, including an educational psychology report. Which as we see above, essentially puts the kibosh on the application. But folks in Shropshire, just ignore what they’re demanding - it ain’t what the law asks for and that’s what counts. 

So, what do we take from today’s excitement? For one, the DfE is getting fed up of bad news about SEND. It’s hard to believe they can just conjure up a funding package overnight to avert a PR annoyance, so they've clearly had this up their sleeve, perhaps for the Dedicated Schools Funding announcement. With wind of the LGA report, they've possibly just brought Christmas for SEND forward, landing their sleigh right on top of the Local Government Association's Grinch.

So it seems they really are “still listening”, but just not quite hard enough to the detail of what’s needed to solve the problem. And as we know, it's not just funding; it's culture in LAs and the NHS too that needs an overhaul. Sadly, that's not something that comes gift-wrapped in shiny paper.

But now they’ve announced the “long-term research”, they can effectively say they’re going to wait to see what it says before they put their hand in their pocket again. Unless, that is, there’s more in the upcoming Spending Review, but the likelihood of that is now much reduced, especially with the “nebulous” uncertainty of  Brexit-Britain…

Also read: Been turned down for an assessment? read SEN Lawyer Hayley Mason’s advice

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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two sons with Asperger Syndrome.
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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