The SENCo campaigning to #CountMeIn over SEND school funding

Twitter has a thriving community of teachers, SENCos, school leaders and many other education professionals. Lots of them, I'm pleased to report, are following us @SpcialNdsJungle

One mainstream secondary SENCo we follow is the interestingly named @AspieDeLaZouch, who, as the handle might suggest, also has Asperger syndrome. Prior to the 12 years he's spent as a SENCo, his career has included being a Deputy Head of a PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) and also some time spent working as an LA SEN manager.

Recently @AspieDeLaZouch has been looking at the issue of SEND funding and its future. This is timely as there is, ongoing until February 27th, a government consultation into fairer distribution of SEND funding. Anyone can can contribute but @AspieDeLaZouch is concerned that the current call for evidence isn't widely known about (it came out just before Christmas) and the questions have been designed in a way that is so technical, few parents are likely to feel confident to take it on. Yet, he says, the issues are fundamental to what goes on in schools.

He has kindly written an article for SNJ, under his Twitter handle, in which he explains the issues and suggests a possible way forward for the SEND community. [Update: See note at end of article]

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The ‘collaborative jelly jigsaw’

aspiedelazouch

The ‘collaborative jelly jigsaw’. Not my words: they were used by a delegate from Birmingham City Council at a conference in September, describing the task of planning places for children and young people with complex needs. Interesting choice, though: place planning is a jigsaw and I can even see it as a jelly, too; priorities and pressures moving all the time…

But “collaborative”? In what sense has the planning of children’s places ever been collaborative? Decades of short-term muddle have given some parents a choice but others none. Some have good quality special school provision but poor mainstream opportunities, while others have the opposite; many feel they have no good options at all.

Ofsted’s most recent review of school inspections showed that more and more nurseries, special schools and Pupil Referral Units are rated as Good or Outstanding while mainstream schools have stalled. Improvement in the secondary sector is particularly slow.

So perhaps it’s no coincidence that recent data shows more Statemented children switching to special schools, particularly at secondary transfer. Many parents have confidence in the expertise of the special school and often they are unconvinced that their local mainstream school has the funding, skills or commitment to get the best out of their child. Yet most start out hoping their child will be able to attend their local school along with siblings and friends.

In November, just two months after the SEND reforms took effect, the DfE called for evidence on the future of SEND funding. Now, why might they have done that? Could it be because, despite the fanfare around the reforms, they know very well that school funding is about to enter a period of real crisis? Don’t take my word for it: the Association of Colleges published a report in May 2014 predicting the DfE will face a total shortfall of £12 billion during the next government.

This is partly because there will be more people of school age and a greater proportion of them will be of secondary school age, where places cost more than primary. In addition, thanks to the reforms, young people with Statements/EHCPs are now able to retain this additional provision up to age 25 and, frankly, the DfE don’t yet know where the money’s coming from. Funding for schools and colleges could be cut by 17% or more.

But for children and young people with SEND, the picture is worse still. They are especially affected by cuts to other services such as advisory, care and safeguarding services, NHS paediatric departments and Child & Adolescent Mental Health teams. The Local Government Association has stated that, from now on, savings can only be made by cutting into frontline services on which vulnerable children and young people depend.

And that's not all: hidden within the schools’ funding formula introduced in 2013 is another challenge: mainstream schools have to find the first £6,000 of additional support for a child before the LA will consider topping up their funding and some schools are already saying they can’t.

Parents will struggle to get their voices heard during the wrangling between school and LA and when staff and resources are stretched to breaking point, flexibility and personalisation become a luxury. What was individual support could now be shared, what was regular now becomes “when resources allow”.

So the future of SEND funding is vitally important to you and to me. The DfE has published a set of questions and reading them, I get the feeling the jelly jigsaw might end up with more pieces than before and all of them quivering. For example, Q6 asks whether some funding should be held back from local schools and given to multi-academy trusts instead. I think we need to see how far the academy chains promote equality and inclusion before they are given the first slice of the budget pie – or jelly (I really am sorry about these food fads). Q9 asks:

How will the way funding is allocated to institutions impact on local authorities’ ability to offer personal budgets for SEND provision?

To which the obvious answer is, “It shouldn’t.” There is a commitment in the law to Personal Budgets which should not be snatched away by administrators. There’s the faintest sound of a promise being broken in Q9. Wibble wobble…

Q14 is also a concern:

Do local authorities take into account the cost of transport for pupils and students with SEND when making decisions about capital investment, and compare this investment with the cost of residential provision out of the area?

So how should LAs respond to this one? Of course they take transport costs into account: transport costs for SEND placements have been one of the biggest problems facing LAs for 20 years or more. This is so well known in Westminster that you have to wonder what is the purpose of the question. Perhaps the DfE wants to encourage LAs to place more children and young people in residential provision as a means of cutting the transport bill. Don’t they think the SEND community – parents especially – will have a view on that? The only way a child should be sent to a residential placement is following a proper assessment by professionals who know the child and with the consent of the parent, not as part of a budget strategy from County Hall.

Q16 highlights the lack of data available on the level of demand – fact is, they just don’t know how many children, where and with which needs, from one year to the next; they never have. Their data is hopelessly inadequate and, in the end, solving that will need your consent.

Responses to this consultation are invited from groups and individuals by the end of February and I think this matters so much to all of us who are involved with SEND that I’m starting a campaign. Nothing complicated, nothing that needs any funding. Just 9 letters to show that every child with SEND and every adult who cares about them needs to leave their fingerprint on this jelly of a jigsaw: #CountMeIn

I want the DfE to make sure they take the views of the SEND community seriously: we’re part of the plan. So I’m writing to Stuart Miller at the DfE and Ben Bryant at Isos LLP (who will be handling the responses to the consultation) asking to meet and discuss why and how the consultation on funding should engage parents and young people more easily.

You see, if there is to be a review of SEND funding, whose views could possibly matter more than the families who will be affected by it and the adults who work with them? That’s why every time we write or tweet on this subject we should remind people: #CountMeIn

@AspieDeLaZouch writes a blog at Brainless Yang

[SNJ note: a short time after this post, the DfE published more explanation about the SEND funding consultation. A coincidence? I think not.]

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Barney Angliss, @AspieDeLaZouch

SEND Consultant at ADLZ Insight
Barney Angliss runs his own consultancy in Special Educational Needs & Disability (ADLZ Insight Limited), having worked as a mainstream SENCo, Deputy Head of a Pupil Referral Unit and Local Authority SEND manager. Barney has Asperger's Syndrome and tweets as @aspiedelazouch.
Barney Angliss, @AspieDeLaZouch
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6 Comments

  1. disinterestedobserver

    Thanks for highlighting this issue. It is so important. SEN funding is difficult to understand so any light you can shed is very welcome. Our local authority told us the school funding changes which came before the reforms were completely separate. But as far as I can see, one depends absolutely on the other.

    This paragraph says it all: “Parents will struggle to get their voices heard during the wrangling between school and LA and when staff and resources are stretched to breaking point, flexibility and personalisation become a luxury. What was individual support could now be shared, what was regular now becomes “when resources allow”.

    Devolved budgets mean schools are less accountable about how they spend their SEN cash. The absence of an accountability framework compounds this.

    1. Thank you for the positive feedback, I’m glad you found it useful. However, your final sentence says it better than I did: “The absence of an accountability framework…” There is a growing desire among SEND teachers to have such a framework since the DfE and Ofsted have both failed to provide one for parents. I hope we achieve that but it will take persistent effort through channels such as SNJ.

  2. Thank you. As parent of a 7 year old girl who is unlikely to cope with a mainstream secondary school, but for who I can find no suitable local alternative provision, this is all at the heart of everything I think about right now. Having a new great paperwork process means nothing if the education places aren’t there to help our children. I’m not liking the wobbling, or the lack of forward planning. #CountMeIn

  3. But why does the consultation bypass parents / carers and the children / young people themselves in its language and assumptions? Why not approach them and ask them how they would like to construct the process, what principles and ethics should underpin it, which dialogues would be useful? I would prefer that the distribution of SEND resources be designed by the users and accepted by the consultants rather than designed by the consultants and accepted by the users. User-led? #CountMeIn

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