If you have any Lavazza in the kitchen, start percolating. Chocolate chip cookies? Yep, you’ll need them too: this needs your best attention.
I can’t promise to make this post exciting but it matters to your child’s future so you need to get involved. This is the first (and possibly the last) chance to influence how SEND is funded: it’s a step I urged the Department for Education to take in my very first post for SNJ, just over a year ago.
It’s an issue which led me to their offices last year for an intense discussion and now it’s your turn: there is a consultation and you’re invited.
The Department for Education controls £58 billion of public spending in England, including £5.3 billion on children and young people with ‘High Needs’: most of this pays for SEND placements and services including EHCPs. About 10p in every SEND pound is spent on alternative provision, mainly for children who have been excluded (and we could have a consultation on that topic, couldn’t we?). Just a penny in every pound goes on hospital education for children and young people whose medical needs are preventing them from attending school.
At the moment, England’s 151 Local Authorities (LAs) are funded according to how they spent money on SEND in the past, even though their population might include fewer children with high needs than other LAs which are receiving less cash. The consultation proposes to change this using a complex formula. But NO changes are proposed to the balance of funding between schools and high needs. In other words, we are not voting to spend more on SEND; it’s about how the money is spread so that it gets to young people who need it in a way that is fairer.
It’s also about how the DfE can encourage education officers to improve their planning for high needs. Some of the proposals are designed to give them an incentive to develop better local options, working with their health and social care partners.
But there are a couple of things we need to keep a close eye on:
- The DfE is also consulting on the overall system of school funding affecting all pupils nationally. This includes money intended to support pupils with ‘low needs’ who don’t have an EHCP. School governors will continue to decide how to use their budgets so we still don’t have ring-fenced funding for low needs. That bothers me and it should bother you. Neither Ofsted nor the DfE is willing to properly investigate what happens to these children. Let’s talk about that soon.
- It’s pretty clear that, within a few years, the DfE intends your Council to control just three aspects of education:
- Home to school transport
- SEND assessments
- The supply of school places (which could even be passed to the Regional Schools Commissioners)
This means that LAs may have much less clout: schools are signing up to Multi-Academy Trusts which don’t make a profit but do control their own turf. While LAs continue to assess children’s needs and decide their provision (a conflict of interest so blindingly obvious that it’s hard to know how they get away with it), they may have real difficulty in finding and monitoring the provision unless there are enough controls within the next stage of this consultation. So we need to be careful what we wish for: an LA with no power at all could be even worse than an LA with all the usual power. And since the big charities who receive grants from the DfE are now forbidden to lobby the Department, isn’t it about time that we had a national Parent Commission on SEND – one which refuses to take DfE money?
What are the proposals and where did they come from?
Last July the DfE published a research paper written by Natalie Parish and Ben Bryant of the ISOS partnership. I’ve said it before (on this website, actually) and I’ll say it again: it is simply the best study of SEND funding in this country and the Department has had the sense to adopt many of its ideas in the consultation. The ISOS proposals aim to improve the way funding is allocated, make the system more transparent and promote better planning. The DfE has added some broad principles up front and some fine detail at the back to make a sort of ISOS sandwich. To go with that sandwich, do you want to stick the kettle on again while I wade into the proposals?
- Do you agree with our proposed principles for the funding system?
It’s all “motherhood and apple pie” – there’s nothing to dislike here, so let’s crack on.
- Do you agree that the majority of high needs funding should be distributed to local authorities rather than directly to schools and other institutions?
Here I’m sensing that your experience of LAs and schools will influence you: it’s the devil and the deep blue sea, I’m afraid. Look, there’s no good answer to this question because they’ve given us too few choices. Unless parents are given some control over what Heads and Governors do, how can they be a better choice than LAs? Toss a coin?
- Do you agree that the high needs formula should be based on proxy measures of need not the assessed needs of children and young people?
The point here is that LAs could start giving every second child an EHCP just to grab a bigger slice of the cake. And plenty of LAs with a huge number of vulnerable children are getting less funding than they need because the old system is… old. Proxy measures use population data to allocate funding according to where the needs are. Deep breath, jump in: let’s go with proxy measures for now, there are details to follow.
- Do you agree with the basic factors proposed for a new high needs formula to distribute funding to local authorities?
The basic factors include children’s attainment in Year 6 and Year 11, the number receiving free school meals, plus local data on child health, disability and deprivation. There are some clever tweaks to iron out the wrinkles. Those areas with the highest deprivation also have the highest need for alternative provision and the formula allows for that too. It’s a modern, transparent system: I support it.
- We are not proposing to make any changes to the distribution of funding for hospital education, but welcome views as we continue working with representatives of this sector on the way forward.
Do you remember at the top of this post that I mentioned how much is spent on hospital education? One penny in every SEND pound… one. They could double the funding for hospital education and not even scratch the surface of the main allocations. Why not treble it – then they could help CAMHS specialist services to provide the most urgent mental health assessments for young people who can’t attend school. So put your views to the DfE now.
- Which methodology for the area cost adjustment do you support?
Er – rock, paper, scissors? There are three ways they could adjust for the different wage costs around the country. I’m going with the modified hybrid method.
- Do you agree that we should include a proportion of 2016-17 spending in the formula allocations of funding for high needs?
This is to prevent sudden changes in the funding given to each LA when the formula kicks in. Smoother changes will protect children. So, “yes”.
- Do you agree with our proposal to protect local authorities’ high needs funding through an overall minimum funding guarantee?
With any new formula, there are winners and losers. You don’t want to be living in an area which will be a loser, right? So vote for the minimum funding guarantee. That way, the fairer allocations will come but LAs will have time to plan for any reduction they face.
- Given the importance of schools’ decisions about what kind of support is most appropriate for their pupils with SEN, working in partnership with parents, we welcome views on what should be covered in any national guidelines on what schools offer for their pupils with SEN and disabilities?
“We welcome views…” they say. Got a pen handy? Okay, write this down:
“We, the parents of children with SEND who do not have the protection of an EHCP, are appalled and angered that the DfE has chosen to ignore Natalie Parish and Ben Bryant’s advice on school budgets for SEND. We call on the DfE to adopt the ISOS proposal for a national framework of mainstream SEND provision.”
Send it to your MP, too.
[Questions 10-14 are intended for LAs, schools and colleges to submit views and evidence on the technical arrangements for funding.]
Please take part in the consultation: we need parents to have a voice. Lavazza or no Lavazza, you can do this.
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